Dear Friend of Berry College:
Several months ago, an older alumnus asked me why I thought Berry should recruit a more diverse student body, faculty, and staff. My initial reaction was that the answer was self evident. But upon reflection, I recognized that the question was a very good one that deserved a thoughtful response.
In Search of Pluribus and Unum
Diversity is an educational issue of importance not only at Berry College but also to all Americans. One of the founding principles of the American republic is the notion of e pluribus unum: one from many. Diversity of race, color, and country of origin has been a national reality from our earliest days, although for many years it has been hard for some Americans to acknowledge that reality. Even with our wide variety of backgrounds, we are united by a system of laws as well as by generally held personal and community aspirations. The American Dream and the American Way have long been shared yearnings of those of many different backgrounds. One of the great challenges to our country in the 21st century is to include an increasingly diverse citizenry within the oneness described by our founders.
The fastest growing population groups in our country are what have been previously called minority groups. The United States now has the fifth largest population of native speakers of Spanish. Greater Atlanta includes children in the public school system who represent more than 120 different countries. As we consider this dramatic growth in international diversity, we should not neglect issues of racial diversity that have been a part of our country's history since the early 17th century. The place of African Americans in the larger American society remains a central issue of national concern. Clearly, race in particular and diversity in general call for a significant response from our educational system.
A critical goal of education is good citizenship. Public schools as well as colleges and universities must serve the public interest by educating a population so that its members are able to participate in democratic institutions. Public schools as well as colleges and universities have also served for many years as places where diverse populations come together to discover mutual interests as well as mutual respect. Such work is far from done, and indeed, this work will become even more important in the years ahead.
At this point, I must make two personal observations that are pertinent to the subject at hand. I was taught at an early age that the two greatest commandments are to love God and love one's neighbor. A parallel lesson is that loving someone quite unlike oneself is more worthy than loving family members and friends. Over time, I discovered that learning to embrace the humanity and to respect the dignity of someone apparently unlike oneself is to realize that this person is not all that different after all. Moreover, when I was in high school, I recognized the power of the argument that "all men are created equal" and "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." That sentence may constitute the clearest and simplest civics lesson in the history of humanity, and yet, paradoxically, it has been one of the hardest lessons for some Americans to master. The implications of Thomas Jefferson's claim should not be mistaken. It is difficult for me to write about difference and diversity in America without confronting these childhood lessons, lessons that continue to define for me important realities about the world I inhabit.
||By the year 2010, minority children will occupy one-third of the seats in our nation's classrooms. Berry's Charter School of Education and Human Sciences is preparing students to meet the challenge. Education graduates must now earn certification to teach children whose native language is not English and complete a service project in a culturally diverse community. In education and other programs as well, greater diversity at Berry prepares students for a changing world.