Living within and between the divides
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff:
When I first came to Valparaiso University a dozen years ago, early conversations among faculty, staff, and students made it clear to me that this community had an opportunity to build an institutional culture that would make its campus inviting, welcoming, and inclusive of people coming from many different backgrounds. Our shared vision sought to bring various beliefs together and become more diverse and inclusive, even as we continued to center the University in its Christian identity and calling and to nourish its Lutheran ethos.
At times, we fail to recognize our uniqueness. The nature of Valparaiso University is unlike any other faith-based institution in the United States. This is a place where people who might not agree on things can come together, live together in community, and talk about those things that might separate us with humility and compassion. A place that intentionally invites people from different backgrounds, belief systems, and cultures to live with one another and join in the common pursuit of truth. A place where we ask what it could be like to live in a community of love and mutual respect even when we differ with one another.
Turn on the news, and you see and hear another world. We are told that the nation is more divided than ever. That we can’t possibly find common cause with one another and there must be more that divides than unites us. In this world, there must be winners and losers, enemies must be named and demonized, and shouting replaces dialogue or any attempt to understand another perspective.
Yet at Valpo, we are called to live in the tension between various ideas and positions. When people demand that we take sides, we know God calls us into community and to be a place where we can have difficult conversations about what it means to live and learn together. We are challenged to face our differences directly and honestly, to seek understanding and reconciliation, and to grapple with our differences with care and compassion, affording each person dignity and respect. It’s around this construct of common purpose that we build our relationships with each other and strengthen our community.
We have an extraordinary opportunity to model for the world the important work we do each and every day as a University that lives within and between the divides — and believes we are more enriched when we do. Here, we emphatically reject messages rooted in racism, sexism, xenophobia, and discrimination. Instead, we live at the nexus of the conflicts of our age, learn from one another, listen to each other, and work alongside one another. As Christ calls us to do.
As I travel the nation to meet with alumni, donors, and friends of the University, I often tell people that the world needs more Valpo graduates — good people doing great things for the sake of the world. Today, more than ever, it is clear the world needs leaders like you who can show compassion, respect, and dignity for those who are different from them.
When I look back at all this community has accomplished in the past decade and think ahead to the work we must continue to do, I am both proud and humbled that, as a campus, we have worked so diligently to nurture dialogue across our differences and to find our common ground. Every day we seek to overcome our political, religious, and cultural divisions. Every day we work together to foster an environment in which each member of this community is accepted, safe, and valued.
In the months ahead, may we rise above those who would divide us and challenge ourselves to remain true to our common pursuit of truth for the sake of this world. May this University serve as a beacon for all who wish to live together in community across a world of differences.
Mark A. Heckler, Ph.D.