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Table of Contents

Who Are We?

Pluralism and Unity

Being Greek

A Sense of Belonging

Voice from the Right

An Attitude of Accommodation

Bigger Questions

Chaplain Kathleen Buckley

"Larry Got Gay"

Speed Bumps

The Great Financial Aid Misconception

The Difference that Differnce Makes

Laurentian Reviews

Alumni Accomplishments

Magazine Cover

The Difference that Difference Makes
By Thomas B. Coburn

When learning environments are controlled and the variables that influence effective learning are analyzed, one variable looms as the most important: the teacher must catch the student in a “teachable moment,” when he or she is extended beyond his or her comfort zone, ready to be broken open to new ways of understanding, new structures of thinking. Some of these moments can be anticipated and structurally created by skilled teachers. Others happen without warning and are a function of individual students’ developmental readiness.

This has a bearing on diversity and difference in education because a community where everybody lives just beyond the margins of their individual and collective comfort zones is a community that is vibrantly alive with learning. And there is no quicker route to living beyond one’s comfort zone than living in a heterogeneous community that attends self-consciously to both the commonalities that link its members together and to the multiple differences that distinguish its members from one another. The aspiration that St. Lawrence has to inclusivity on all of its salient markers—race, color, religion, ethnicity, gender, class, and sexual orientation—derives, in part, from its concern for justice and equity, from the moral dimension of liberal education. But this aspiration to inclusivity is also a commitment held on educational grounds. Put bluntly, intentionally engaging differences of all sorts educates, as virtually nothing else does.

Students see that in residential colleges difference provides an opportunity. It is something to be learned from and therefore embraced. Awkwardness with difference, or ignoring it, or simply assembling a group of heterogeneous individuals without intentionally engaging the differences among them, either destroys or fails to capitalize on the learning potential that is at hand. The intentional engagement of differences, in the curriculum and in extracurricular life, is as important as gathering together diverse individuals.

The St. Lawrence faculty has recently completed a reform of our general education curriculum that aspires to do greater justice to these issues, preparing our students to live in a world where we are ever more aware both of the commonalities that bind us globally and the differences, many of them irreducible, that separate us. But the aspiration to which the new curricular requirements give fresh voice is deeply rooted in St. Lawrence’s history and in the liberal arts.

Launched by a $1 million grant from the Christian Johnson Endeavor Foundation, (our global studies program) has caught national attention for the quality of the faculty we have hired and for the way it asks students to do comparative cross-cultural work, usually building on their own study-abroad experience. But we also now require all students to address these issues in their studies with a new diversity requirement: “two courses from different departments or programs approved as engaging participants in the critical study of sameness and difference, including diverse social and cultural practices and beliefs, either within or without the United States.”

To realize the potential for learning from difference, diversity within the curriculum must, of course, be matched by diversity within the faculty. We have worked hard in recent years to achieve this, and today minority representation among tenured or tenure-track faculty is 50% greater than it was years three ago, and this past year all of our visiting faculty members were members of United States minorities. But the numbers remain small—about 10% of a faculty of 150—and this, along with increasing the ethnic and racial diversity of the student body, remains one of the key fronts on which St. Lawrence must get better, if it is to realize more fully the potential that engaging difference, in all of its forms, represents in liberal arts education for the 21st century.