The College and the Spirit of Brotherhood

Keynote Speech
Annual Banquet of the Brotherhood Alliance
May 21, 2014

I want to thank former Mayor Preziosi and the leadership of the Alliance for the invitation to speak. As someone so new to the community, I am especially honored to have been asked.

I also want to congratulate Dr. Martin and Colonel Astin. Both of them have made exceptional contributions to this community over multiple decades and truly exemplify the spirit of brotherhood to which the Alliance is committed.

My talk will explore how Lycoming College has and can be a partner with the Alliance in promoting brotherhood in Williamsport and Lycoming County. What I have to say could also be said about Penn College by my colleague, President Davie Jane Gilmour, who is in attendance this evening.

What is Brotherhood?

The scholar in me feels compelled to begin with a definition of brotherhood. So in preparation for this talk, I went to my bookshelf where I discovered The Idea of Fraternity in America by Wilson Carey McWilliams.  McWilliams offers the following definition of brotherhood or fraternity:

“Fraternity (or brotherhood) is a bond based on intense interpersonal affection that is limited in the number of persons and social space to which it can be extended and involves shared values or goals” (McWilliams p. 7).

He adds brotherhood, “involves making a commitment to something deemed worthy of devotion, emulation or obedience.”

This definition prompts us to focus on the values of the Brotherhood Alliance and its members, which are clearly delineated on the website as “understanding, tolerance and community harmony.” And so I will organize my comments around four different ways in which I think Lycoming College can and does promote the values of understanding, tolerance and community harmony.

Hosting and Creating Events that Promote Brotherhood

The first and most obvious thing that the College does and can continue involves serving as a place for and as a creator of events that explore and promote the values of understanding, tolerance and community harmony.

The College has been active in this role for many years. In the past year alone, the examples are numerous and significant. During the month of April the Ewing Lecture by Dr. Leslie Brown explained and made understandable the roots and history of the idea of black power—an important part of African-American culture. The College’s Black History Month program where Spencer Sweeting, pastor of Williamsport’s City Alliance Church, addressed the topic “How we change a City” was another significant event. A third example was the role the College played in hosting the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemoration Committee’s second annual Day of Service on Saturday, Jan. 18, where participants packaged 40,000 meals at Lycoming’s Recreation Center that were distributed to needy families through the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank. Finally, artist Stephen Marc served a three-day stint as artist in residence at the College, during which he continued his work helping the local community discover more about the area’s black history. Interestingly, this project actually began in 2003, when Marc collaborated with local community members on the “Freedom Bound” public art project that resulted in five large-scale banners comprised of images from local Underground Railroad sites being displayed on the front of Wegman’s supermarket.

The College will continue to serve as a place where events that foster understanding, tolerance and community harmony are created and hosted. During the coming year, I expect that we will create a new program focused on remembering the holocaust.

Building Capacity

As a second focus, Lycoming College can also assist community organizations in building their capacity to service clients. This contribution can take many forms. One approach involves the creation of what are called high impact community based learning opportunities where faculty members, students and community organizations collaborate to help the community organizations better meet the needs of current and future clients. This work is different from volunteering or directly servicing clients in that the work adds to the ability of the organization to better meet the needs of its clients. Students learn and human service organizations benefit.

This type of capacity building currently takes place as part of courses like Introduction to Human Services, Medical Sociology, and Program Evaluation and Grant Writing. Students also conduct research that builds capacity for organizations. In recent years, such projects have been undertaken for organizations such as AIDS Resource, the Greater Lycoming Habitat for Humanity, Hope Enterprises, and the Transitional Living Center.  Students in some majors also engage in Practicum Experiences that build capacity for human service organizations. One student recently researched and wrote a report on recidivism for the Lycoming County Juvenile Probation Office.

Finally, some of our faculty members are also engaged in applied research for organizations such as CAPPA, the Central Workforce Development Corporations, the Lycoming County United Way, the Lycoming/Clinton Bi-County Office of Aging, STEP Inc., and the YWCA.

Lycoming College has also launched a new initiative this summer that is building the capacity of human service organizations:  the Williamsport Internship Summer Experience. Nineteen students will complete 10-week internships in Williamsport, at organizations such as the Transitional Living Center, Susquehanna Health, ACES North America, the American Rescue Workers, the Williamsport Community Darkroom and the Public Defender’s Office. Other students are interning in the public sector, including at the Mayor’s Office and the County Office of Planning and Economic Development.  Through their internships, these 19 students will help build capacity that enhances the ability of organizations to service their clients more effectively.

Under our new strategic plan, the College will increase opportunities for faculty to create high-impact learning experiences in the community. We plan to establish a Center for Enhanced Academic Experiences that will support both applied faculty-student research and courses that involve community-based learning.

Enhancing College Access and Building a Diverse Student Body

As third focus, I would suggest that the College promotes understanding, tolerance and community harmony by expanding college access and recruiting a diverse student body. Expanding access matters because when some members of our community are denied access to something as valuable as a college education, that inequality will tend to create disharmony in the community. Building a diverse student body matters because it makes it more likely that students who attend Lycoming College will develop an appreciation for the cultures of others—something that is the foundation of understanding, tolerance and harmony.

The leading foundations in this country believe that expanding access to higher education is a national imperative. According to the Gates Foundation, “higher education in the United States is at a watershed moment. As costs rise and colleges and universities face growing financial pressures, the education gap is widening and public student financial aid systems are getting stretched to the limit—all of this at a time when our economy needs more college-educated workers than ever before.” Gates continues “Left unabated, these trends will leave the U.S. economy without the skilled workforce it needs to remain competitive, and will likely increase the education gap between those from low-income backgrounds and the rest of the population.”

I would suggest that this national imperative is also a local imperative. We have a diverse population in Williamsport with a significant number of students who are in lower-income families and would be the first in their families to attend college. There is an opportunity here for Lycoming College to partner more effectively with the school district and others to respond to this imperative.

The Institute for Higher Education Policy has studied this question and identified the barriers to greater access. They recommend intervention in the in providing information about college cost and the availability of aid and the steps to enroll in college. Lycoming College can partner with others in providing these interventions and taking other steps to improve access to a college education.

First, college students can mentor younger students and serve as role models. This approach can work particularly well when first generation students mentor first generation students. Superintendent Adams and I have discussed this idea—he is committed to increasing college going rates in the Williamsport School District and I have offered to promote the idea of mentoring within the Lycoming student body. I expect that over the next several years, you will see a growth in the number of Lycoming students mentoring WHS students.

Second, we have professionals who can provide information on financial aid. We are glad to offer such workshops on campus or in the community for families and guidance counselors.

Third, we can provide students an exposure to the college experience. The College for Kids and Teens program is an example. Nearly 200 elementary and middle school-aged students from the area will be on campus July 22-26 for the 27th annual Lycoming College for Kids and Teens program.

During the coming summer, we will also start a new program—Lycoming College Prep. This program will involve first in family students from most of the local school districts. It is a residential program designed to expose high school students to the liberal arts, campus life, and Lycoming College.

Made possible by a generous grant from AT&T, all program costs are covered by the grant, including housing, meals, travel, classroom supplies, and field trips. The students will take a social science and physical science courses taught by Lycoming faculty members. The program will also include painting and photography workshops, introductions to the admissions process and other facets of campus life, and a guided kayaking trip down the Susquehanna River.

Providing a Liberal Arts Education to Local Students

Finally, Lycoming College promotes brotherhood by providing local students with a liberal education that explores the meaning of understanding, tolerance and community harmony. By its nature a liberal education seeks to graduate students who demonstrate a concern for others and form a moral bond with others who compose the community in which they live. We produce graduates who embrace deliberating with other members of the community.

Let me close by again thanking Mayor Preziozi and the leadership of the Alliance for this opportunity to speak at this dinner. The College looks forward to being an active partner in promoting the values of the Alliance:  understanding, tolerance and community harmony. We welcome ideas from members of the community as to how we might better perform this part of our mission.