Tension? Balance? Synergy?

The Berea College community is made of many individuals with almost as many passions. And while we are bound by a shared commitment to excellence and to education, these passions sometimes lead to tension with each other and difficult balancing acts. This can be a challenge, but I believe that by looking beyond tension and even balance for synergy, we foster a stronger and more intentional community.

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Berea College honors Eight Great Commitments, so there are a LOT of places tension can develop and many places to seek balance.  For example, when we consider “whom shall we serve,” the question arises, should we focus on Appalachian students from the mountains or emphasize our commitment to interracial community and education? Similar conundrums occur when we ask, how do we honor our Christian commitment while recognizing that “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth, (Acts 17:26)” whatever their faith commitment, and welcoming all into the community; or how should we balance the tension and stress for students who participate in a very rigorous academic program while making substantial time commitments to their work for the College and their interest in service?

When the community confronts such questions, Berea’s approach is unlike the strategies that most other institutions use. For example, unlike other institutions, we do not simply allot each idea a certain amount of resources and “let a 1000 flowers bloom.”  Nor do we ask the community to vote on priorities for the year and use the results to choose between alternatives, because we are committed to all of the Great Commitments regardless of changes in outside circumstances or our own varying interests.  Most importantly, we do not simply ignore the tensions, which is probably the most common strategy of all when it comes to institutional planning.

How, then, does Berea College confront these challenges as a community? The truth is, there is no simple recipe or governance process, but our solutions and outcomes often reflect a synergy between efforts that might have been in tension, a synergy that finds value beyond simple balance.

A good example of this is how we approach the tension between our Second and Seventh Great Commitments to a high quality liberal arts education and a labor program requiring all students also to provide upwards of 10 hours of work to the College each week.  In this case the tension manifests itself as stress in the lives of students who are trying to meet both of those obligations at a high level of accomplishment.  And simply seeking balance might mean lower expectations in both areas, so that students could accommodate both a full academic schedule and their labor contributions.  Here, the synergy we have found is the understanding that work is a key part of student learning.

Student and labor supervisor at computer

Jay Buckner, multimedia production manager, helps Felicia Johnson ’17 develop skills in video editing as part of her labor position.

Labor supervisors are not only helping students learn work skills, but also supporting them in learning the time management abilities that will be crucial to them later in their future busy professional lives.  And, many of Berea’s labor positions allow students the opportunity to apply what they are learning in their courses.  While not every current Berea student would agree that seeing work as part of education resolves that tension, I have spoken with countless alumni who see that aspect of their Berea education as its single most important aspect and a key reason for the successes they have achieved in their professional lives.

 

Does the realization that work contributes so essentially to the educational experience fully resolve the tension for Berea students?  No, it does not, and we are very aware that these pressures are a challenge for our students. So I am very happyrevised-wheel-2015-no-shadow-290x300 that our newly created FRESH Start initiative, will introduce understanding of stress and coping skills to our students in their first year, as a way to improve their academic performance and health, with the added benefit of providing a model for understanding how activities in one area of life connect to other areas. The model uses eight dimensions of wellness: emotional, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, spiritual, and sustainable. Through the program, students will see that one’s occupational wellness influences all the other dimensions, not just financial wellness, as some might expect.  Understanding these interrelations helps prepare students for success throughout college and also, for their futures, to seek synergy when facing similar challenges later in life.

Public and Private Institutions in Kentucky

EKU Commencement-2

From left to right, Craig Turner, Michael Benson, Lyle Roelofs, and Janna Vice.

Last Friday morning, I had the great pleasure of attending Commencement at Eastern Kentucky University at the invitation of President Michael Benson.   Actually, I attended just one of five of the commencement celebrations, the one for the school of arts and sciences.  What a thrill to celebrate with over 700 new “eternal colonels.”  It was also a pleasure to meet other leaders at EKU including Craig Turner, chair of the board of regents, John Wade, dean of the college of arts and sciences, and Dr. Janna Vice, provost.  The inspirational commencement address was provided by graduating student, Ms. Jenna Sehmann.

It was also a thrill when one of the graduates stopped to greet me as she walked across the stage, introducing herself as Shelby Williams, 2014 graduate from Berea College, and now holder of an EKU Master’s degree in industrial and organizational psychology. Seeing Shelby reminded me of how closely linked Berea College and EKU really are.

Both strongly emphasize serving students from Eastern Kentucky, both serve a large number of first generation students, and we both celebrate the first generation graduates by asking them to stand for applause during commencement. Both have very fine student concert choirs and other vocal groups, but EKU has a steel band that played the recessional. Together we provide access to higher education in a state where only 21% of adults hold a college degree, so we both have a LOT more work to do to ensure the commonwealth has an outstanding work force and all of its citizens have the opportunity to pursue the careers that interest them and to live lives of fulfillment.

So, despite the differences in our size and the fact that one of our two institutions is private college and the other is a public university, enjoying support from the commonwealth, we have a lot in common and a shared task, providing an affordable education to those who need it.    With the large number of young people (and also some adults) who desire a college education in Kentucky, both our institutions are essential, so while I am very proud that Berea offers a no-tuition education to all the students it admits, there is no question that our commonwealth urgently needs the public university system to be affordable and accessible.

Berea College enrolled 194 students from Kentucky in the Fall of 2015, about 45% of our total of 432 incoming students.  Each year about 45,000 students graduate from Kentucky high schools, and around 60% of them (27,000) plan to attend college.    Berea and the other private schools in Kentucky are doing their utmost to educate the young citizens of the Commonwealth, but serving all these students requires supporting large, public universities like EKU.

From that point of view, recent developments in Frankfort regarding funding for the public universities in our state are very discouraging.  Institutions were asked to accept a reduction in state support in the current fiscal year, and also to anticipate further reductions in the two upcoming years covered by the biennial budget just approved.  Although these changes do not impact private institutions directly, they still raise big concerns.  Access and affordability will of necessity be reduced as the public institutions respond to these reductions by increasing tuition or decreasing programs offered to students, or a combination of both.

Jasmine TowneRecently there have been conversations in our state about whether higher education is a right or a privilege, and whether we citizens want our tax dollars to support post-secondary education. I certainly do want the taxes I pay to support higher education for our young citizens. And in my opinion the right or privilege debate misses the most important point. If Kentucky is to remain competitive in the 21st century, 21% of adults in the state holding a college degree simply will not cut it!  So, whether you consider it a right or a privilege, we should really be thinking of higher education as a necessary and worthwhile investment. We need a partnership between public institutions and private institutions to move us forward in educating more young Kentuckians, and we need the support of state government in Frankfort to do so.

Those concerns did not diminish the celebration of Berea’s 240 graduates two weeks ago or EKU’s 2,700 new “eternal colonels” last weekend, and rightly so, but they do very much deserve to be on the minds of all Kentuckians.

Branching Out and Staying Rooted

Kaitlyn Reasoner '16, Mary Robert Garrett, and Teri Thesing head out for a final run.

Kaitlyn Reasoner ’16, Mary Robert Garrett, and Teri Thesing head out for a final run.

For me, last week’s graduation festivities kicked off with an invitation from Mary Robert Garrett, associate professor of chemistry and original member of the Berea College President’s Run Club (BCPRC), to join her and Kaitlyn Reasoner ’16 for a final outing. The BCPRC was formed in 2012 as a way to promote community and healthy activity, and Mary Robert and Kaitlyn have participated with the group that typically meets each Tuesday and Thursday for a run (or walk) along the Beebe-White trail.

Mary Robert’s invitation brought into sharp focus for me the fact that graduation would be a little different this year. I’ve had the privilege to attend many graduation ceremonies over the years, and each contains a mixture of excitement and loss.  Excitement for the accomplishments of the graduates and their future plans, but tinged with the sadness of all those departures from our community.

Lyle Roelofs helps new students move in to their dorms. Photo taken on August 18, 2012.

Helping new students move in to their dorms. Photo taken on August 18, 2012.

So, what makes this year different than the first three?  Simply put, Laurie and I began our own Berea story with this class of students. They were the first that we welcomed to campus, the first to join us for a run or a walk, and the ones with whom we learned the ins and outs of Berea. Together we have seen the campus change with the renovation of several residence halls and the addition of Deep Green, shared Berea traditions, like Mountain Day, and created traditions of our own, like the Green Games and the new up-tempo version of “Berea, Berea, Beloved.”

While we have shared and learned much with these students, our paths are now diverging. For the recent graduates, the new path leads outwards on a journey to new communities, new places of work or study, and to whatever comes next for them.  I am certain that Berea has prepared them to branch out and take full advantage of all the opportunities that are before them.

Laurie and I will be staying, of course, continuing the process of growing deep roots here. In a few months, we will have the pleasure of welcoming the class of 2020 to campus.  Though the class of 2020 won’t share the campus with the class of 2016, that class gets credit for a lot of what we have learned about Berea, and so the class of 2020 and future classes are actually in their debt.  From the class of 2016 we learned that every Berea student is a story of ambition, resilience, and accomplishment; we learned of their passionate interests in art, music, athletics, student government, debate, and much more; we learned last November through our Unity Rally how much they care for one another; we learned to ascend the Pinnacles to celebrate sunrise with them on Mountain Day; and, of course, we learned that college students can develop an interest in exercise and fitness, even running or walking in the early morning.

One community all the 2016 graduate have joined is the community of Berea College alumni, and this is something in which I want to encourage all our graduates to participate. As you branch out, share your stories through the Berea College Magazine, connect with the college on social media, and, when time permits, let your own path circle back to campus for Homecoming, Summer Reunion, or anytime the opportunity arises. That’s how you will join us in staying rooted in Berea.

Faithfully yours,

Lyle

P.S.  The feelings of one staying rooted as graduates branch out were rather beautifully captured by my favorite 19th century poet, John Greenleaf Whitter in his lovely poem, “At School Close,”  written about the time of Berea’s first commencement!

Invest. Connect. Transform 

Chad Berry, vice president for academic affairs; Charlotte Beason, trustee, Hal Moses, trustee chair; Lyle Roelofs, president; and Matt Saderholm, division I chair.

The campaign leadership for the Margaret A. Cargill building breaking ground on the project: Bernadine Douglas, vice president for alumni and college relations; Chad Berry, vice president for academic affairs; Charlotte Beason, trustee, Hal Moses, trustee chair; Lyle Roelofs, president; and Matt Saderholm, division I chair.

Very few days are truly transformative for an institution, particularly at an institution so mindful of its mission and traditions as Berea College, but April 21st, 2016 will certainly be remembered as one of those days for us. On Thursday, with the support of friends and alumni, I was privileged to help break ground on the Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences and Health building and to officially kickoff the campaign to raise $10 million in support of the project.

Members of the campaign leadership are joined by Dr. Warren “Gene” Bulman ’48 founder of Ohio Semitronics, Inc., his daughter, Linda Iben, and Laurie Roelofs, first lady.

Members of the campaign leadership are joined by Dr. Warren “Gene” Bulman ’48 founder of Ohio Semitronics, Inc., his daughter, Linda Iben, and Laurie Roelofs, first lady.

Prior to the groundbreaking, members of the Berea community had a day-long opportunity to participate in demonstrations highlighting how science affects all aspects of our everyday lives. There were demonstrations of the mathematics of quilting, the chemistry of jewelry making and much more by faculty, staff, and students. Showing these connections is symbolic is one way to highlight the themes that guided our planning for the building: the value of an interdisciplinary approach to the physical and health sciences; the opportunities for leveraging the innate interest of scientific ideas for outreach; and the great potential of active learning in mathematics the sciences.  These themes will be brought to life in the new building. Not only will the programs be housed under one roof, but the building will also incorporate many glass walls so that everyone entering the building will see intense activity in the labs and classrooms and meeting spaces, will see students learning science by doing science and will see scientific subjects brought to life in a state-of-the-art visualization facility.

Members of the science and nursing faculty pose alongside Lyle Roelofs and Chad Berry.

Members of the science and nursing faculty pose alongside Lyle Roelofs and Chad Berry.

In addition to being visible, the rooms will also be adaptable, allowing classes to move easily from lecture and discussion to lab work.  An additional advantage of the new building is an increase in overall lab space, which will permit students to run more complex experiments that extend over multiple laboratory sessions, work of the type that will better prepare them for graduate school or careers in industry or healthcare related fields.

I hope this message conveys a sense of the great excitement the new building is bringing to campus. Over the next two years, I will offer periodic updates about construction through this blog.  Take a look, too, at our campaign website, which will continue to document the progress of the construction and of the campaign.

The Berea College Board of Trustees poses with Lyle and Laurie Roelofs.

The Berea College Board of Trustees poses with Lyle and Laurie Roelofs.

Digging into Sustainability

For many people, the word “sustainability” calls to mind images of recycling and hybrid vehicles. Both are important, but genuine sustainability goes much further: it is comprehensive, deeply rooted, as it were, in how we as a community and as individuals approach our place in the world. Berea is fortunate to have a tradition of thinking about sustainability guided by the Seventh Great Commitment, which calls us to adopt “a way of life characterized by plain living, pride in labor well done, zest for learning, high personal standards, and concern for the welfare of others.”

These same goals are reflected in the definition of “sustainability” that guides the work done by students in our Office of Sustainability, led by Joan Pauly. Their definition of “sustainability” refers to the capacity of individuals, communities and societies to coexist in a manner that maintains social justice, environmental integrity and economic well-being today and for future generations.

Sustainable DashboardThe college has long been mindful of the need to recycle, to reduce carbon emissions and to limit our use of electricity. Now, thanks to Joan’s team, led by Tsering Dhondhen ’17, data tracking & analysis coordinator, and with the help of Dr. Scott Heggen, lecturer in computer science, and his student Phyo Phyo Kyaw Zin ′16, we can all see the progress being made through a newly developed dashboard that tracks our efforts on a month-to-month basis. It can be accessed here.

While the dashboard shows the College’s overall progress, we are also interested in what can be achieved in single home. Clover Bottom House, the 110-year-old log house that serves as the new headquarters for the sustainability program, models sustainable retrofits for single family homes. Some features, like the use of solar panels, high performance windows and a biomass-fired generator for creating electricity, support energy efficiency, while others, like a Victory Garden and a Monarch Butterfly Station, encourage good nutrition, self-sufficiency and environmental health.

Clover Bottom House

Soon, we may have the opportunity to achieve a first in the state of Kentucky, when a Tesla Powerwall battery is installed in the house. Joan believes the battery will store enough power to enable the home to be energy self-sufficient. We are also taking this initiative on the road with grant funding from the United States Department of Agriculture, enabling Berea College to become a center for energy efficiency. Working in partnership with Kentucky Highlands Corporation, the Promise Zone Board and Jason Delambre from Midwest Clean Energy Enterprises, our students will perform energy audits for businesses like grocery stores and small factories in Eastern Kentucky helping them to reduce energy costs and thereby enabling them to grow and support the region’s economy.

Laurie and I are joined by members of the men's basketball team to plant trees to offset carbon emissions as part of the Green Game project.

Laurie and I are joined by members of the men’s basketball team to plant trees to offset carbon emissions as part of the Green Games project.

Lest anyone think this is all hard work, we also have a lot of fun with sustainability on campus.  In each of the last two years our athletic program has organized “Green Games” in which the community, working together, takes measures to fully offset the carbon footprint of an athletic event. We celebrate at half-time (https://youtu.be/5GivUstO5xo), and afterwards the teams lead the community in planting enough trees to offset the carbon emissions from building energy use during the game and the bus travel.

And that brings to mind what we’re doing in the College Forest, but that’s a story for another blog.

Fostering the growth of an inclusive community: The Women’s and Gender Studies program

Fellow Bereans,

As we approach the close of Women’s History Month, the time seems right to celebrate past contributions and give thanks for the efforts to shape our future regarding the sixth Great Commitment. From Matilda Fee onward, Berea has been fortunate to have so many of our community committed to gender inclusion and equity, and in this blog I’d like to draw special attention to the Women’s and Gender Studies (WGS) program. That program’s formal origin came in 1991 when the faculty recognized Women’s Studies as a minor in order to promote gender awareness across the campus, and it became a major 10 years later in 2001.

While one tends to think of academic programs in terms of opportunities for students, it is important to recognize, too, how the WGS program and the values it stands for strengthen the whole community – faculty, staff as well as students. As Berea’s founders knew more than 160 years ago, a healthy community develops and draws on the perspectives, strengths and abilities of all its members, which is why Berea began as a coeducational institution committed to diversity and inclusion. And, it is why today we are committed to learning to see beyond the simple binaries of “male and female” or “masculine and feminine” or “gay or straight” and to understanding gender identity as the richer spectrum it really is. The WGS program plays an essential role in helping our community as it learns to be a welcoming and supportive environment for its transgender members as well.

Group Photo

From left to right: Peggy Rivage-Seul, professor and program chair of WGS; Carrie Jadud, WGS program associate; Shahwar Ali ‘16, WGS labor student; Marcella Fitisone ‘17, WGS major and labor student; Qrescent Mason, assistant professor of WGS

The practice of living out this commitment has changed over time. For most of the College’s history, it is fair to say that the male voice has been privileged. But, more recently, the WGS program has been instrumental in moving us toward a dialogue in which all voices are heard and valued. The signature program for creating this dialogue is “Peanut Butter and Gender,” a series of lunch meetings held 10-15 times per year where Bereans gather to share a simple meal, hear a presentation and then discuss a significant issue of the day. Past speakers include Dorothy Allison (author of Bastard out of Carolina), bell hooks (feminist author, social critic and distinguished professor-in-residence at Berea), Judy Chicago (artist and creator of the “Dinner Party”), Winona LaDuke (Native American activist, environmentalist, economist and writer), Lori Wallach (director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch), Vandana Shiva (author, physicist and biodiversity activist), Carol Browner (administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), Nikki Giovanni (poet) and Gustavo Esteva (journalist and advisor to indigenous groups in Mexico). It is worth pausing for a moment to consider just how remarkable this line-up of visitors to a small school in Kentucky really is!

Laurie and I have enjoyed participating in supporting some of these wonderful visits, and I have been privileged to play a part in Berea College’s Women in Public Service Project, which has connected Berea College to influential woman leaders all over the world.

For all these reasons, I want to thank the members of the WGS faculty for making Berea a stronger, more thoughtful, community. Special thanks to Barbra Wade, the first chair of the program, to Peggy Rivage-Seul, who currently guides the program and organizes “Peanut Butter and Gender,” and to Linda Strong-Leek, past program chair, division chair and now Berea’s vice president for diversity and inclusion. Please join me in actively supporting Peggy, Linda and the entire WGS program as they provide leadership in living out our sixth Great Commitment and our ongoing effort to be a community that welcomes “all peoples of the earth.”

Faithfully yours,

Lyle

You can follow me on Twitter @RoelofsLyle.

Celebrating Gender Equality with the Berea Concert Choir

Fellow Bereans,

As I’ve become part of Berea College community, my admiration for it has increased, especially its members’ capacity to learn and grow while remaining true to its founding principles. The pattern of articulating, examining and reaffirming our beliefs and how we act on them is woven into the fabric of the institution. In it one can trace how founder John G. Fee’s ideas became the Eight Great Commitments, and one can still see the process at work today, shaping how we live out these principles as individuals and as a community.

Over time, there have been changes in the process of self-reflection, one of which – a very good one, I believe – is how the conversation can be shared with the larger community through social media. To take advantage of this, each month I will make a post (or two) highlighting the work done in support of the Great Commitments, celebrating the accomplishments of dedicated Bereans and, in return, I hope to hear feedback from the community at large.

March is Women’s History Month, so it seems fitting to focus my inaugural post on the sixth Great Commitment, “To create a democratic community dedicated to education and gender equality.”

Berea College Concert Choir

Laurie and I accompanied the Berea College Concert Choir on a recent tour to the Chicago area as they performed at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside, the Bahá’í House of Worship, the First Unitarian Church of Chicago and Field Museum. All were noteworthy venues, and the choir, 60 voices strong, brought great credit to Berea College through its moving performances. Particularly remarkable too was the visit to the Bahá’í House of Worship, a thoroughly impressive structure located on the shore of Lake Michigan north of downtown Chicago. The photo shows choir members in front of this amazing building after their performance.

Bahai Temple

The Bahá’í faith emphasizes “unity in diversity,” an interesting belief that resonates with Berea’s motto, “God has made of one blood, all peoples of the earth.” The Bahá’í faith is based on seven Core Principles, which like our Great Commitments, form a mutually reinforcing unity, but my attention settled particularly on the third of those Core Principles – “Equality of women and men.” How striking is that? The wording matches ours exactly (!), and how remarkable for a system of faith to elevate gender equality to the level of central dogma. These are not just words either. In a short video presentation on the history of the National Center of Worship, we visitors learned that female and male adherents of the Bahá’í faith are equally involved in leadership and were similarly equally involved with planning all aspects of their magnificent building.

What a delightful coincidence that this visit occurred in the month of March! My next post will celebrate Berea’s Women’s and Gender Studies program, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Faithfully yours,

Lyle

You can follow me on Twitter @RoelofsLyle.

If you would like to hear some of the Berea College Concert Choir, check out the video below.

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