Valparaiso University is constituted by people from different backgrounds, belief systems, and cultures joined together in the common pursuit of truth. As the University’s president, I am conscious of the importance of cultivating an environment in which all are free to engage in open dialogue and expression while treating one another with dignity and respect. These values run deeply throughout our community of students, alumni, faculty, and staff.

During the past week, many of these members have expressed concerns about the impact Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) may have on the state of Indiana and on this University. In particular, concerns have been raised about the University’s position on non-discrimination. While this University does not routinely issue statements concerning legislative actions, when the University’s position on non-discrimination is called into question, as Valpo’s president, I am compelled to respond.

Valparaiso University stands with numerous Indiana organizations, businesses, and communities of learning in its longstanding commitment to renounce discrimination. Regardless of personal opinions about the RFRA, we must engage in open and respectful dialogue among people who may hold fundamentally opposing and irreconcilable beliefs. We must find a way to live and work alongside one another in community. We must love one another. As Paul writes in Galatians 5, “For the whole law is summed in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

Valparaiso University was one of the nation’s first coeducational institutions, in a time when women faced educational discrimination. Valpo welcomed African-Americans and participated actively in the civil rights movement. Valpo commemorated Martin Luther King Jr. Day when Indiana’s legislature would not recognize this holiday. Valparaiso University’s Board-approved non-discrimination statement welcomes all people regardless of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, or religion. As an independent Lutheran University, we will continue to welcome people of all faiths, cultures, and walks of life to join us in this community of dialogue across difference under our distinctive Lutheran model of education. And we will continue this commitment even when our elected leaders make decisions, like the RFRA, that operate in contradiction to our values. We will seek to model for our state and nation what it can be like to live in a community of love and mutual respect.

I call upon our elected leaders and our governor not only to amend this legislation, but also to use this opportunity to advocate for the values held by all those who strive to make Indiana a welcoming and inclusive state.

Valparaiso University will offer an academic camp for elementary and middle school students June 15 – 26.

The camp, “Summer Smart, Summer Fun,” continues the legacy of the late Valpo professor Alan Bloom, who led its development in 2013. The program helps children learn about the world in an environment full of fun and exploration. Participants will create special projects, science experiments, and original stories to take home and share with parents and friends.

The American Society of Church History has elected Ronald K. Rittgers, Ph.D., Erich Markel Chair in German Reformation Studies and professor of history and theology, as its next president. Rittgers will serve a three-year term as president.

Rittgers joined Valparaiso University’s faculty in fall 2006 after he taught for seven years at Yale University. He is particularly interested in the religious, intellectual and social history of medieval and early modern Europe, and he is considered an expert in Reformation studies.

“Those of us at Valpo are very pleased with Professor Rittgers’ election to be the president of the American Society of Church History,” said Mark Biermann, Ph.D., provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. “This election is a clear endorsement of the high quality of his scholarship and of his outstanding contributions to his professional community.”

WHO/WHAT: Valparaiso University students and faculty will display original artwork in the fifth annual Soup Bowls for the Hungry silent auction. In addition to ceramic bowls, the auction will include digital, painted, and drawn interpretations of bowls.

Admission is free, and soup and cornbread will be served. Guests are invited to try their hands at throwing a pot while they wait. All proceeds from the auction benefit the Food Bank of Northwest Indiana in Gary.

WHEN: Friday, March 27, 4 – 6 p.m.

WHERE: Art–Psychology Building (west of parking lot 43), Valparaiso University

WHAT: Valparaiso University will celebrate the groundbreaking and blessing of the sorority housing site.

“This is such an exciting time of growth and development for the Valparaiso University sorority community,” said Carolyn Whittier, Ph.D., assistant dean of students for Greek Life. “Sorority women lead and serve in many capacities at the University, and these facilities will allow the women to increase their involvement and connection to the University and the larger community.”

Six townhouse-style units are planned, with move-in scheduled for December 2015. Each unit will house 25 beds for a total of 150 sorority women, and there will be a carriage house for a full-time residential learning coordinator.

WHEN: Monday, March 16, 10 a.m.

WHERE: The sorority housing construction site, located on the northwest corner of Union Street and University Park Blvd., across from Valpo’s Athletics–Recreation Center

Grammy Award-Winner Natalie Cole Headlines Anniversary Concert on April 11

Valparaiso University will host the 2015 Jazz Fest April 6–11, offering an exciting lineup by local and regional artists capped with performances by The Marcus Roberts Trio and Natalie Cole.

In addition to guest artists, the University’s faculty and student ensembles, as well as high school jazz ensembles, will participate in the festivities. Local middle and high school bands will kick off the week Monday, April 6, and Tuesday, April 7. Each performance will be held at 6 p.m. in the Harre Union Ballroom and is free and open to the public.

WHO: Valparaiso University and the Northwest Indiana Chapter of the American Red Cross present “A Day in the Life of a Refugee,” hosted by the Red Cross Club.

WHAT: The event offers an opportunity for community members to join Valpo students, faculty, and staff as they gain insight into the realities of the more than 10 million refugees currently registered with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

Visitors to the simulated refugee camp will learn about the protections afforded to refugees and the conditions in which refugees often live, and current Valpo students who were once refugees will share their experiences.

This event is free and open to the public, and participants are welcome to attend at any point throughout the day.

WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 19, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m.

WHERE: Community Room, Christopher Center Library

WHO: Valparaiso University and the Special Olympics of Indiana come together for the 2015 Polar Plunge, an event raising awareness and funds to sponsor the Special Olympics throughout the state. This is the fifth year the University will host the event.

WHAT: The Polar Plunge invites participants who have raised $75 or more to jump into a pool of freezing water. Participants are encouraged to dress up in costumes and are invited to warm up at the After Splash Bash party, located at the Hill Top Gym. Complimentary hot food and beverages will be available for Plungers, with a $5 fee for guests and observers.

All funds raised through the Polar Plunge go toward training and athletic competition for more than 11,000 Special Olympics Indiana athletes. Last year, the Polar Plunge season raised more than $580,000 for Special Olympics Indiana. The event is open to the public and free to watch.

Participants are encouraged to pre-register online at soindiana.org.

Valparaiso University presents “Realizing the Dream in Northwest Indiana: A Dialogue On Civil Rights In The Age Of Ferguson” on Feb. 17 at 6 p.m. in the Harre Union Ballroom.

Hosted by Heath Carter, assistant professor of history, the event offers an opportunity for community members to join Valpo students, faculty, and staff in an open and respectful discussion about the current state of civil rights.

“Even as we commemorate the 50th anniversary of so many civil rights milestones, we find that questions about race and racial justice are not just the stuff of history,” Carter said. “Across the nation, including right here in Northwest Indiana, these issues remain in fact profoundly contemporary. I am delighted to welcome leaders from across this region to Valparaiso University for an important conversation about civil rights in the age of Ferguson.”

WHO: Valpo welcomes prospective college students, parents, and their families to visit with more than 100 representatives from public and private colleges and universities.

WHAT: Learn what it takes to get into college, what campus life is like, how the financial aid process works, and which academic offerings are available. Admission is free.

WHEN: Wednesday, March 4, 6:30–8 p.m.

WHERE: Harre Union Ballrooms, Valparaiso University

CONTACT: Visit valpo.edu/regionalcollegefair for more information.

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