Who are we? There are some obvious answers. We are the College of Humanities. We are around 19,000 students taking at least one class in the humanities. We are around 1,900 students with a major or minor in a humanities field. We are around 300 faculty and staff. We are almost 75 emeriti and countless alumni. We engage with questions and topics that center around our humanity and around society. We are here because we are driven to ask, to listen, to inquire, and to reason critically.
Sometimes our shared world presents us with difficult challenges. Sometimes we get the sense of being in a state of crisis. Sometimes we are surrounded by terrible, horrible tragedies that touch our families, friend circles, communities, or even ourselves. Challenge, strife, and unrest sometimes create opportunities for a better future, and we recognize that some of our Humanities departments and programs arose from activist responses to injustices of the past – and today, that intellectual activism guides us to a path forward. The challenges we face require intentional and careful interaction because we know that these challenges have real-world implications. Let us look to our predecessors who dedicated themselves to seeking solutions and answers, and let us act in ways that will make us proud in decades hence.
All the while, even though we are fully aware of the challenges that face us, we are also appreciative and grateful for the life that recent rains have brought us: green grass and flowers for weeks, and many months of sustaining water that will last throughout the entire year. We can marvel at the beauty of the delicate orange blossoms and the symmetry of the newly opened leaves in the orange grove, and we can similarly marvel at how our own thoughts, ideas, and questions germinate, sprout, grow, and flourish within our minds and in the intellectual and cultural community around us; this safe space and the company of others we have nourishes us intellectually and culturally.
Who are We?
So back to the question of “Who are we?” – we might begin that answer by asking “Who am I?”
and of course, we will get innumerable answers. We are each individuals, with our own ways of thinking, being, and doing. We are people who are voluntarily a part of many different groups, whether those are departmental, racial, ethnic, religious, political, cultural, and more. We have the freedom to define who we are, but we do not have the authority to define who anyone else is. Part of us being a group, or many groups within a group, is understanding, recognizing, and allowing space for anyone and everyone to be. To exist. To just be.
How do we show who we are?
We show who we are by how we respond to each other and how we respond to intellectual challenges. We support each other’s identity, each other’s personhood, and each other’s ways of expressing that identity and personhood. We pay attention to and respect each other, and we show that we accept and welcome who they are, as they are. That means that when we are in a disagreement - which, yes, there will be disagreement - that we listen through the disagreement, we try to understand the sources of disagreement, and we listen without feeling threatened or without feeling the need to threaten. We engage in conversation and dialogue with each other with the understanding that we see ourselves and each other as people first and foremost and we do not fall into the trap of creating simplistic categories of “us” and “them” (after all, if you look at it that way, you realize that you are someone else’s ‘other’). Above all, we stand up against injustice. There are other ways to show who we are that will also develop who we are: If you are moved to go to a vigil, go to the vigil. If you are moved to join a healing circle, join the healing circle. If you hear about a lecture or a presentation or a campus event don’t let yourself think “that’s not for me”…Go to it! Listen! Learn! It’s for all of us!
What else do we need to do?
As I said, above all, stand up against injustice. Make an effort to grow intellectually, culturally, and personally, and make space for others in our community to grow and express themselves. Keep these questions close to your actions and thoughts (Who are we? How do we show who we are?), and know that these questions aren’t just abstractions. How we confront injustice, how we treat each other, and how we discover and value our own selves…these are the questions for us in the Humanities, and this is how we arrive at the answer to the question “Who are We?”.
You are humanities!