Last week, Transylvania University alumna Tracy Clayton posted a riveting reaction to the University of Oklahoma's SAE fraternity video in which students were captured making racist chants.
In doing so, she shared painful events she experienced as a student at Transylvania after enrolling in 2000.
All of us who have read the post take the issue to heart. Her essay demands that we face our past, but it also calls us to study the progress that has been made and to choose where we will go. As President Barack Obama recently remarked, "It's the idea held by generations of citizens who believed that America is a constant work in progress; who believed that loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disrup tion ... ."
The belief in progress, the courage to face the truth and the willingness to embrace disruption have shaped the Transylvania narrative for 235 years.
Never miss a local story.
Clayton's narrative depicts racially insensitive decisions made by the institution, and hurtful behaviors by members of a fraternity chapter. These mistakes are not only a regrettable part of Transylvania's past, but of our country's. However, for us they are more regrettable because our primary reason for existing is to elevate the knowledge, wisdom and character of our students.
To know one's purpose is to know which direction to move when ideals are not being met. This is what Transylvania has done throughout its history and in a pronounced way in recent years.
For instance, minority students made up 3 percent of the incoming class of 2000; in 2014, the incoming class was 18 percent minority. Half of our senior administrators are women; one of those women is a racial minority.
Three new residence halls are being constructed. Two of them replace the Clay and Davis residence halls. Naming opportunities for these buildings will go to members of our community whose life stories inspire students to become moral leaders.
This progress reflects the irrepressible will of the Transylvania community to continuously improve. It harbors a deep faith that our students will use education to make the world a better place. Quoting Obama again, like our country, we work from the belief that we are "not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake (ourselves) to more closely align with our higher ideals."
This work is guided by a moral imagination that is cultivated in our classrooms, boardrooms and residence halls. While every institution has shortcomings, there is no better place than the college campus to clarify the goods that lead us to realize our highest selves. This is the primary function of a liberal-arts education. It is why we invest time and resources to enroll a diverse student body.
Face-to-face encounters with those who are different shatter narrow prejudices and expand moral horizons. Our classes and conversations develop us so that we do not merely tolerate those who are different, we seek them out. They teach that security and friendship cannot be procured at the expense of excluding others. The benefits of belonging are not ends in themselves. They are a harbor from which we venture into uncertain seas and to which we return for respite. They must not be a barrier to keep others from reaching shore.
Our students recognize the importance of participating in and contributing to the common good. They demonstrate a sincere concern for each other. Sometimes, they make mistakes. When they do, they are held accountable.
I have no doubt that they will be leaders, as so many Transylvania graduates have been. They sustain my faith in a world that is full of reasons to be pessimistic. They make me believe that a Transylvania education can produce not only articulate and riveting self-criticism but also the capacity and will to change.