May 7, 2001
What we've learned this year
Billy Frye, John Stone, Steve Kraftchick and Robert Agnew co-chaired the 200001 Year of Reconciliation and the Reconciliation Symposium in January. Karen Poremski served as coordinator for all official Year of Reconciliation activities.
As the Year of Reconciliation draws to its official close, we (the co-chairs
and coordinator of the Reconciliation Symposium) take this opportunity
to reflect on the successes and shortcomings of our experiences as an
institution this yearboth what we did right and what
were still learning to do.
We did not solve the conflicts of the world or our campus during two
days in January, or even during the whole year; these were not our goals.
We realized early onand hoped our colleagues would follow as the
year got under waythat reconciliation is not about achieving a static
end result. Rather, its about the process of hearing and talking
with each other, the process of sustaining dialogue across lines of difference
We wanted people to know that the greatest power of the idea of reconciliation
lies in the dynamic meaning of the wordthe ways in which we hold
ourselves accountable for understanding the arguments, evidence and interests
of those different from ourselves.
Conflict is inherent in everything from the structure of atoms to the
affairs of humankind. The most interesting question in every situation
is how the conflict or tension between its parties is resolved or balanced.
The same goes for our intellectual life: Isolated from other ideas, our
own amount to little more than dogma; it is when we examine them honestly
in light of other, potentially conflicting ideas that they become scholarship.
Seen this way, reconciliation is at the heart of what we do.
The goals of the committeeechoing those set forth by Billy Frye
in Choices & Responsibilitywere to heighten the Universitys
awareness of the complexities of the concepts of conflict and reconciliation,
to engage in a discussion as a community about meaningful ideas that affect
our lives, and to discover ways in which we could use this thinking and
discussion to act.
These goals gave us a framework in which an impressive array of productive
and stimulating activities took place, from the symposium to course offerings
to special programs in the schools of law and public health, the Womens
Center and so forth. The activities through which Emory as an institution
explored the concepts of conflict and reconciliation are indeed too numerous
even to list here. But in general, we think the events of the yearand,
in particular, the symposiumwere successful in the following ways:
They highlighted the work of Emory faculty in the area of reconciliation;
they stimulated dialogue across the University on topics of mutual concern;
they provided a model for future endeavors of this sort; they identified
or drew greater attention to a range of issues that Emory (like many other
institutions) needs to address; and they fostered the spirit of
reconciliation sometimes evident on campus.
One of the successes, the ways in which the years events advanced
our knowledge, is in the examination of environmental issues at Emory.
The symposium presentation by E. O. Wilson, its panel discussion on reconciliation
in the environment, and the resulting workshop on nurturing a green
university enriched and were enriched by the work of the Ad Hoc
Committee on Environmental Stewardship, which had begun well before this
There is tangible evidence that this symbiotic relationship has produced
real change at Emory: We now are more aware of Emory as an environment
and of the decisions that affect the balance between preservation and
growth. While the Reconciliation Committee cannot take credit for producing
this progress, we can be proud that we supported it.
However, these significant successes notwithstanding, we are also mindful
of ways in which we fell short of our goals. We were less successful in
ensuring that many of the conversations begun at the symposium continued
and bore fruit. Unfortunately, it seems to take a crisis to stimulate
widespread discussion of an issue, as we have seen in the controversy
over Commencement and the discussion of race and biology in The Wheel.
In these cases, students worked quickly and diligently to address these
conflicts, and with good results.
We also failed to anticipate the need for reconciliation between faculty
and administration; once more, a crisis has stimulated much
discussion in this area. But there is hope: There is a spirit of cooperation
emerging, and dialogue has begun.
We thinkwe hopethat the moral framework provided by the symposium
and the year has played some role in shaping the response to this crisis.
As murky and painful as the process of examining conflict, airing disagreement
and reconnecting is, it is better than separation and departure. By calling
ourselves a university, we commit ourselves to a sense of community. We
should also be aware that the responsibility for maintaining this community,
for keeping alive and possible the prospect of reconciliation, lies with
all of us.
The perception of the degree of success of the symposium
and the year varies greatly from person to person. Those who saw the program
as an opportunity to approach their own work from an interdisciplinary
perspective and as an opportunity to understand and learn from our differences
likely profited from it. Those who saw the theme merely as a contrivance
and a questionable effort to create peace and harmony likely
perceive the years events to have had little intellectual or community-building
If we increased our awareness of and accountability to one another in
an intellectual sense, and if we deepened the desire and opportunities
for ongoing interaction and dialogue of the sort that is called for in
Choices & Responsibility and A Vision for Emory, then
we will have had a significant impact on the intellectual life of the
community and the development of our students. But our natural tendency
seems to be to isolate ourselves in our scholarly specialties (for understandable
reasons); in this condition, no single exercise in interdisciplinary collaboration
will bring about a permanent change in the habits of the community. Our
challenge is to recognize the importance of such exercises and continue
to create and support fresh opportunities to engage with one another in
our teaching, research and service activities.
We hope that what weve begun this year will continue; when we understand
that reconciliation is a process, we also understand that it does not
We hope that the legacy of the Year of Reconciliation will be a recommitment on the part of the members of our community to keep that community healthy.