Connecticut College Magazine · Winter 2013

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The new science center at New London Hall. Photo by Bob Macdonnell

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Boldly facing a complex world

Boldly facing a complex world
Photo by Laura Cianciolo '16

By Leo I. Higdon, Jr.


As I write this, we are fresh from the tragedy in Newtown, Conn.

As president of an institution dedicated to the life of the mind, I find it especially distressing that vibrant young minds can be so swiftly stilled. That it happened in an educational setting, an elementary school where young people and their teachers should feel safe and free to explore new challenges, is even more disturbing.

Within days of the tragedy, I joined college and university presidents across the nation in a pledge to engage our respective academic communities in meaningful debate and dialogue that can lead to
positive action.

Educating students to actively address the most pressing problems of our time is a hallmark of a Connecticut College education. On Dec. 17, Kyle Smith '14, a government major from Maine, published an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News about the need to talk about irresponsible gun use. His thoughtful piece addresses his own conflict with the complex issues of guns and violence and calls on the greater community to participate in “real discussions” about the kind of world we want to live in.

I was heartened, but not surprised, to see one of our students stepping so boldly into a public forum with his own comments on such a controversial topic. In our 24/7 living-learning environment, Connecticut College students are encouraged to address difficult issues. Our campus culture encourages learning that overflows from the classroom into the dining halls, student residences, coffee bars, library and other settings across campus. And students are challenged to incorporate these issues into their academic coursework.

We also provide opportunities for students to engage in more structured conversations about topical subjects through teach-ins and campus-wide conversations. This semester, for example, our five interdisciplinary academic centers are hosting a semester-long, all-campus series of discussions and events on the topic “Striving for Global Justice.” The initiative brings together diverse perspectives in global, environmental, digital, racial, ethnic and social justice. It kicks off with a keynote lecture by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nicholas Kristof and culminates in an April conference on environmental equity and a subsequent showcase of senior integrative projects.

This kind of common intellectual experience — with discussion fueled by faculty and students who are as diverse in scholarship as they are in backgrounds and cultures — is a critical component of a Connecticut College education. Students emerge from their college experience with a broader view of the world and a confidence in their own capacities to contribute to it.

In this issue, you can read about two women who were well-prepared for challenges they faced, Barbara Beach Alter '42 P'65 as a former missionary in India (read more), and her daughter Martha Chen '65, a public policy lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government who is also a champion of “forgotten workers” in south Asia (read more).

The decades-long work of these extraordinary women, the impact of our alumni the world over, and the emerging work of students like Kyle Smith, emphasize for me the importance of an education that prepares students for a world of increasingly complex challenges and problems.


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