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Northwestern University

Letter From the Dean: Building Resilient Communities

Adrian Randolph sitting in a chair, leaning forward to the camera with a smileIt is a deeply human wish to inculcate desired characteristics into children and young adults. The period I study, 15th-century Italy, generated many manuals offering advice about such matters. In his dialogue De Familia, the humanist Leon Battista Alberti provided guidelines on raising children who would be pliant to authority, ambitious, and resilient. In the religious sphere of the period, the visual arts also offered up countless examples of patience in the face ofadversity, which scholars today tend to see through a psychological rather than solely religious frame.

I am, therefore, only too aware that our focus today on “resilience” is not new. But it is, I think, topical. Growing inequality across our fragile globe has rendered many people vulnerable, and their suffering is more visible today than ever before. We are also increasingly attuned to the possibility of misinterpretation or offense as we seek to understand and bridge our differences. To many, this seems to be a precarious age, with the threat of violence hovering over myriad and sometimes conflicting perceptions of insult or hate. Our contemporary interest in resilience can be seen as a sort of antidote to this growing sense of vulnerability.

But a spirit of resilience should not imply that an individual under real or perceived threat bears the sole burden of enduring. Yes, we want students at the College to develop the type of mettle that will serve them when facing struggle or difficulty. But we also want to produce a resilient community, one that accepts differences, embraces disagreement, and maintains its integrity in the face of centrifugal forces.

One grand challenge for universities and, more broadly, municipalities, regions, nations and the world, is to develop the means of producing resilient communities. In our community, this means committing to values that are at the very heart of the liberal arts — diversity, interdisciplinarity, and freedom of expression. These do not guarantee resilience in our world, but I believe they are a firm foundation on which to build toward that goal.

Signature of Adrian Randolph

Adrian Randolph
Dean, Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences

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