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Last Friday, I offered a charge to the Class of 2020 as part of the College’s annual Convocation ceremony. Part of my remarks focused on how Lycoming students are prepared to become engaged citizens of their home countries. I framed this message by noting that this class is entering college during a particularly complex time in the history of the United States and the world. The paragraphs that follow represent a slightly edited version of my remarks on this issue.
Nearly every week, we hear about an act of terror that takes the lives of innocent people somewhere on the planet. At the same time, within the United States, we have witnessed during this summer not only acts of terror, but incidents where young African-American men have died from excessive force and where police officers performing their duty have been assassinated.
All of these events represent an affront to the values upon which Lycoming College was founded — a philosophic tradition that values individual human life. The tradition of liberal learning to which Lycoming College is committed rejects extremism in any form and resists the temptation to simplify complex issues and demonize others. Rather, we equip our graduates with the critical thinking skills and cross-cultural knowledge needed to understand the flaws of extremism and appreciate a variety of viewpoints.
Our liberal arts tradition also recognizes that there are issues of inequality and exclusion in our society — and at our college — that have not been fully addressed. But we insist that acts of violence that take the lives of innocent people are not acceptable forms of political action. Rather we understand them as violations of the ethos of liberal learning.
Instead of violence, you will learn that we believe in the potential of the political process and the power of reasoned dialogue. Toward these ends, at Lycoming, we prepare you to bring critical reason to bear on difficult and thorny issues.
As an example, the recent acts of terrorism have prompted an intense debate about how best to protect our citizens. This debate is made particularly intense because 2016 is a presidential election year in which the language and terms of debate have been different than in other recent elections. The political rhetoric surrounding the current election is both more emotionally intense and rhetorically provocative. Critical reason will help you understand the complexities of this issue, and empower you to think about how to balance national security with protecting our freedoms and fundamental principles such as religious tolerance.
The problems of global terrorism, inequality and exclusion as well as the U.S. presidential election will likely become topics of discussion in your classrooms and in the residence halls. Some of these conversations may feel uncomfortable but colleges like Lycoming are places where these discussions should take place. We strive to create an environment that values the free exchange of ideas. We debate vigorously but we respect those with whom with we disagree.
And so we ask that you approach your discussions in and out of the classroom in a spirit of mutual respect. Don’t hesitate to express your point of view but do so in a way that respects others and their viewpoint. Be open to the idea that your views may change.
Lycoming is committed to preparing you to learn how to live and govern in a culturally diverse and rich society. This is part of the “I Am Lycoming” story.
Kent C. Trachte, Ph.D., is the 15th president of Lycoming College.