Wheaton works to build community together
They showed up one by one and in large groups; in dresses and high heels, in athletic team uniforms and sneakers. They were students, professors, staff members, campus visitors; headed directly there or on their way elsewhere but drawn in—showing up in the early morning light as well as in the dark with hand-held glow sticks.
People couldn’t resist participating in the Unity Project, the interactive yarn-based art piece that developed string by string on the Dimple last fall. The project that was started nationwide by visiting artist Nancy Belmont and brought to campus by Professor Kelly Goff was meant to get the college community thinking about how we are all connected, even as we link ourselves and others to certain labels.
It served as the perfect visual metaphor for an academic year full of events, presentations, webcasts, faculty-led conversations and student-driven acts of social engagement—all part of the Building Community Together initiative that President Dennis M. Hanno began in 2015. The ongoing initiative seeks to foster an inclusive and welcoming community that appreciates and learns from diversity.
The 2016–2017 academic year opened with Professor Russell Williams offering renewed inspiration with his thoughtful Convocation speech, “Building Community Together in a Diverse Society.” Weeks later Provost Renée T. White added fuel to the fire by extending an open invitation to faculty members to create and lead Community Conversations that tap into their scholarship on a range of topics—from targeting racism to ways of executing peaceful resistance. And students have led their own initiatives to contribute to creating connections, including organizing a Rally for Peace after the 2016 presidential election or simply by talking to someone they don’t usually interact with.
Here we offer just a glimpse of what has been happening through the eyes of those involved.
In their own words
A look at the collective effort of constructing connections
“Built by individual narratives, one at a time, the Unity Project provided us with a reminder of how communities are formed and reinforced by the unique individuals within them.”
Professor Kelly Goff
“We are a place about learning, generating new ideas and facing challenges. So we should be able to use that in response to social questions.”
Provost Renée T. White
“When the world is divided, it is easier to target and oppress groups of people. To me, community is about showing up. It is about unity.”
Olivia Benissan ’19, sociology major
“‘I see you’ is an important sentence for the 21st century, and building community is an essential task for the future, as, on a daily basis, we face interaction with diversity locally and around the world.”
Professor Russell Williams
“Community is built daily through seemingly normal dialogue.”
F. Steven Kimball ’18, economics major
“Accepting the evidence that the world is structured unfairly and that, unchecked, even our perceptions and behaviors can perpetuate that unfairness, allows us to work together toward change.”
Professors Michael Berg and Karen McCormack
“As writers, we understand writing as a way to grapple: It allows an inner confrontation with what, on the surface, we cannot accept.”
Professors Constance Campana, Ruth Foley, Lisa Lebduska and Angie Sarhan
“As a neuroscience major, I recognize the interconnected nature of everything that I have become part of here at Wheaton. Yet, I am challenged to find the connections between the sciences and social justice issues.”
Kelvin Ampem-Darko ’17, neuroscience major