We hear it all the time: The cultural and economic context into which our graduates enter is a global one. For many years, Wesleyan has energetically recruited students from across the United States because we believe that geographical diversity can be helpful in creating a campus in which students learn from peers with experiences, hopes, and ideas different from their own. Following a similar logic, in the last decade, we have doubled the percentage of students who come from outside the United States. The goal is to foster intercultural competency among our students—to increase our students’ capacity to learn from and work with people from a variety of cultures. The professional and personal lives of our graduates will, in many cases, be characterized by cosmopolitanism. No doubt many students will continue to discover their own histories and arm their own identities here, but that will be happening in a context acknowledging a variety of identities and cultures.
Wesleyan recently launched the Fries Center for Global Studies to accelerate the effectiveness of the cosmopolitan education we o er. The mission of the Fries Center (honoring Trustee Michael Fries ’85) is as straightforward as it is important: to help “all members of the Wesleyan community achieve the knowledge, language skills, and sensitivity each person will need in order to exercise effective and responsible citizenship in an increasingly interdependent world.”
Whether or not one considers oneself a “global citizen,” there’s no denying the interdependence of peoples across the globe. At Wesleyan we emphasize intercultural communication, and we want our students to gain knowledge of other times and places so that their experience is informed by differences as well as commonalities. The Fries Center places enormous value on adaptability, compassion, and cultural self-awareness with respect to the world beyond our borders. These are qualities that will stand our graduates in good stead as they navigate their lives beyond the university.
Wesleyans involve themselves in many issues of widespread international import. In the fall of 2015, a group of students founded the Wesleyan Refugee Project, dedicated to advocating for refugees, raising awareness of their predicament, tutoring, and assisting international organizations seeking to address this growing crisis. Some of the students are currently working in refugee camps in the Middle East, while others are helping local Middletown organizations pave the way for refugees to have an easier transition as they settle in this country.
Climate change is one of the greatest international challenges of our time, and here you’ll find many Wesleyans at work. Whether through research sponsored by our College of the Environment or policy work at the highest levels of international diplomacy, students, faculty, and alumni are finding ways to make a positive difference in a difficult political context. We can’t “opt out” of the climate, and we can no longer simply ignore the disastrous consequences of continuing to grow a carbon-based economy. To do so, only courts further catastrophe.
Global studies and global awareness must also include issues of security and international relations. It is urgent for us to understand the sources of terrorism and how best to combat the deadly violence instigated all over the globe in the name of religion and ideology. At Wesleyan, students look deep into these issues in such courses as Bruce Masters’ The Modern Middle East, Ioana Emy Matesan’s Comparative Politics in the Middle East, Peter Gottschalk’s Muslims and/in/of the West, and Douglas Foyle’s International Security in a Changing World.
Global awareness is a core feature of liberal education at Wesleyan. You can find it in economics and film studies, history and philosophy, environmental science and religion. A broad education that uses a variety of perspectives to understand contemporary issues of importance depends on a rejection of parochialism. We must continue to inspire students to grapple with ideas that they would never have considered on their own. We must continue to create opportunities for students with different beliefs to engage with one another, bursting their protective bubbles of self-affirmation and opening themselves up to ideas from other parts of the world.
When lecturing in China about a hundred years ago, the American philosopher John Dewey emphasized: “Where material things are concerned, the more people who share them, the less each will have, but the opposite is true of knowledge. The store of knowledge is increased by the number of people who come to share in it. Knowledge can be shared and increased at the same time—in fact, it is increased by being shared.” At Wesleyan, our efforts to increase global awareness will be a vehicle for sharing knowledge widely—and, in the process, increasing it “for the good of the individual and the good of the world.”