Community Update from President Cristle Collins Judd

Dear Members and Friends of the Sarah Lawrence Community:

From time to time, I will provide updates to our entire community around important events in the life of the College. As you know, we are engaged across this inaugural year in a rich series of conversations and events on the theme of “Democracy and Education.” I am writing on this Election Day to encourage you to exercise your right to vote and to invite you to join the conversation as we launch #SLCDemocracyEducation.

On slc.edu/democracy, you will find the first of what we hope will be many voices responding to this theme as we push this important conversation out beyond our campus. Those of you who were able to attend the events connected to my inauguration a few weeks ago know how powerfully our students illustrated the core value of a Sarah Lawrence education, as they engaged distinguished speakers with thoughtful and probing questions on this topic. (If you weren’t able to join us for those events, I would invite you to watch them).

John Dewey’s Democracy and Education (1916) is the catalyst for the important conversations we’re having. For Dewey, education and democracy were inextricably linked—both imperiled but also offering empowering and mutually reinforcing foundations for a globally just society. Writing very much for his time and place, Dewey gave voice to a concern that the United States risked becoming a society in which groups and communities—especially those with the greatest resources, both political and economic—would lack the desire for contact with those who differed in outlook and practice, thus losing a vital opportunity for society to transform itself peacefully rather than violently. Though he was writing just over a century ago, the situation Dewey described feels eerily familiar. Hurricanes and earthquakes, Charlottesville, DACA, Title IX, mass shootings, and acts of terror: events, outrages, tragedies in recent months that challenge and numb us, that generate front-page news and spark explosive debates and heightened tensions, especially in and around college campuses.

While Dewey’s writings merit a critical reading (as one group of our faculty are undertaking), reframing his topic for our times could not be more apt. We, too, are at a moment in which societal rifts threaten to engulf us and in which education must take a leading role. This is the context in which we have adopted the theme of “Democracy and Education” to confront urgent and pressing questions: What are the essential elements of a “democracy”? Who gets to be a “citizen” and why? How do we learn to speak to one another across deep ideological divides? How can we best uphold the ideal of free speech in the face of hate speech? And what role must education—and higher education, in particular—play? We very much hope that you will join us in person or virtually for events this year and add your voices and thoughts to this vital conversation. As part of its October meeting, the Board of Trustees engaged in reflection on the inaugural symposium; discussion of democracy and education was a central element of the meeting, reflecting the Board’s commitment to use these discussions to frame conversations about the promise of this great college.

In other news, the Board also formally approved construction of the Barbara Walters Campus Center and I recently hosted two forums on campus to offer updates on the project. We are in the final stages of obtaining planning permission from the City of Yonkers and anticipate breaking ground on January 18, 2018. To see the design and read updates as the project progresses, visit our Barbara Walters Campus Center page. We are grateful to the many donors who have supported the vision of the center, with pledges, gifts, and commitments to date of $29M of the total budget of $35M.

One of the great privileges of serving as your president is the opportunity to connect to the community on the campus and beyond. Recently I met with alumni and past and present parents in Chicago and Washington, DC, and I am looking forward to meeting alumni around the country in the coming weeks and months. I am grateful to the many alums and parents who have extended such a warm welcome to me as I have taken up the mantle of President.

This past weekend, as we welcomed families to campus for Family Weekend, a parent asked me, “And how is your semester going”? It was a lovely question that allowed me to laugh and respond with my version of what I hear a lot of students saying: I have a lot of writing that is overdue, a number of meetings to prepare for, that I am plenty busy and perhaps a little sleep-deprived, but that I am so excited to be at Sarah Lawrence—to be meeting so many talented students, faculty, and staff; to already have attended so many talks, theater productions, performances, athletic matches, and other events (including—for the first hour only—fall formal); and, above all, to be becoming part of the deeply engaged academic mission at the heart of everything we do.

In my inaugural address, I made the following claims for our motto “Wisdom with Understanding” that I believe should guide us:

"We should hear this not merely as a quaint reminder of Sarah Lawrence’s past, but as a motto for our time. 'Wisdom with understanding' points to the essence of a Sarah Lawrence education: discovering which questions to ask and how to follow them relentlessly, digging deep to pursue a possibility, bringing all of one’s creative energies to bear.... But it also signals a way of proceeding—with understanding—that reminds us of the necessity for empathy, for generosity and grace when encountering competing views, for an inclusivity, that is itself deeply and openly inclusive. For only then can we learn to speak to one other across deep ideological divides and to create a society that can transform itself peacefully rather than violently. This is a tall order for a college campus to model, but one to which we must aspire."

Please join us in the conversation as we aspire to that wisdom with understanding: #SLCDemocracyEducation.

With warmest wishes,

President Cristle Collins Judd

Cristle Collins Judd
president@sarahlawrence.edu