It was 1968, the height of the Vietnam War. There were protests and riots across the nation. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.
One Sunday morning, my father, minister of a Methodist church in a white suburb of Chicago, and my mother, a nurse, loaded their five kids into the station wagon and headed for Chicago’s South Side. My father had been invited to be the guest preacher in a black church.
On the way there, we passed Black Panther billboards depicting raised black fists, the symbol of the Black Power movement. I will never forget the moment when my father pulled over under one of those billboards and said, “This is not something to be afraid of. This is a good sign.” I have told this story many times because of what I learned from it.
What are students learning today? Wherever you are in your educational journey, students have rarely been more visible. Countless articles have described how students are responding to the disruption of their last months of high school or college, including, for many, the anticipation of walking across the stage at commencement. Articles have focused on how you are dealing with the difficulty of deciding what to do next in the midst of so much uncertainty, and our nation is now watching as students in cities across the world are among those protesting what George Floyd’s family calls the “pandemic of racism.”
During my time as chancellor of Montana Western, I have felt encouraged by the level of engagement and curiosity our students display, and I am encouraged when I see thousands of young people showing up to voice their outrage in the face of systemic racism. I am encouraged by their insistence that it is time, at last, for change in our nation.
I am eager for the conversations we will have this fall semester. Experience One is based on the premise that the deepest learning is experiential. It is not about just having experiences, but about transforming experiences into knowledge and action by reflecting upon them. At Montana Western, we learn with and from you, the students.
I am eager to know what you are learning from the unprecedented series of experiences that have so rapidly unfolded in our lives. What are you learning from what you are experiencing during a time when it has often felt like the world has turned upside down?
This is not a time for us to speak for our students or to put words in your mouths. We do, however, know some things about you. You care about learning. You care about other people. You have told us that you want to learn how to lead. You have it in you to rise to meet every challenge that comes our way with your eyes wide open.
We are committed to supporting each of you as you continue to learn and grow.
Wishing you well,
Chancellor Beth Weatherby