Campus Community

Expanding Our We

October 5, 2018

Dr. Timothy P. Leary

EVP Tim Leary invites faculty and staff to do the tough work of building community.

Following are the excerpts of the remarks Executive Vice President Tim Leary delivered at the President's Welcome on Sept. 21.

Each September, the President invites me to give a brief reflection on the upcoming year. I usually begin thinking about this opportunity in July as I review our work from the previous academic year and then seek some sort of inspiration from my experiences over the summer. Inspiration, however, came early this year in the form of a faculty member's thoughtful and challenging address at an end-of-the-year celebration.

During commencement week this June, I attended the Lavender Graduation Celebration. This is a program created to honor the many accomplishments of our LGBTQ+ graduating students and their allies. This year's keynote address was delivered by Dr. Joseph DeFilippis, a faculty member from our Department of Social Work and a 20-year veteran of social activism. In his presentation, he shared a number of ideas that have helped shape/reshape my thinking about our efforts to develop authentic community here at Seattle University.

In the talk, he offered advice about how to challenge injustice in our community. We were asked to think about "who makes up our WE?" "who makes up our WE?" In other words, who is included in our own circle of friends/people with whom we spend time professionally and socially?

It was posited that we would be a much stronger community if/when we expand our WE to include persons much different from ourselves. It was stated that we too often limit our WE to those who think just as we do. And, too often, our response to people who don't think as we do is to call them out or to publicly shame them for their mistakes or their ignorance. It was contended that real change to a community requires "calling people in, not out." In addition, we were cautioned not to confuse the silencing of others with the educating of others.

Now make no mistake, Dr. Defilippis believes we absolutely must hold each other accountable, and he continued in his talk to advocate strongly that people must challenge injustice clearly and directly; however, he emphasized, as one of his colleagues likes to say, that we should hold one another accountable, not kick one another accountable. He stated how important it is that we remember how we would have wanted to be treated before we were as "woke" as we are now.

He posits that if we are willing only to work on building community with people who are "perfect," our WE will be very small. He encouraged us to expand our WE to include "Imperfect Allies." This includes persons who may look and act quite differently than we do, or who may not share our social and political beliefs, but who are none the less committed to doing the tough work to create authentic community. In other words, our sense of community is much stronger when we have a bigger, more diverse WE.

We were encouraged to:

  • Be patient with those with whom we disagree,
  • Be generous with others, 
  • And to assume the best in each other

Those of us in attendance at the address were left with one final question:

Are we willing to do the real work of building community at Seattle U?

As I reflect on this question, I find myself hopeful that the answer is yes, because of the strength and diversity of our people here at Seattle U and the richness of our Jesuit character.

Our Jesuit mission calls us...

To meet others where they are.

To be generous and to treat one another with dignity and respect.

To know that we are a stronger community when we fully embrace difference, not just commonality.

To truly listen to the stories of members of our community, particularly the stories of those most alienated and marginalized.

To move a little closer to the edge and show a willingness to be uncomfortable and to more fully embrace the dynamic tensions in our campus community.

In essence, our Jesuit mission calls us to expand our WE to think and act more inclusively and compassionately towards all.

So I ask, “How different might our sense of community be at Seattle University if each one of us sought to expand our WE to include persons who think and act differently than ourselves, to be a bit more patient and accepting of others, and to truly embrace the concept that we are all ‘imperfect allies?’” To do so while also allowing for people to advocate strongly when injustices occur?

Why should we engage in this important yet difficult work at Seattle U?

Father Arturo Sosa, the current Superior General of the Society of Jesus (better known to us as the Jesuits), states, “We engage in this tough work because it is not enough to achieve intellectual depth, but rather we must endow it with meaning, beyond itself, as our contribution to improving the world.”

Michael Eric Dyson, author of two recent bestselling books on racism in America, says, “We must engage in this work because the greatest mark of our humanity and character shows when we are concerned about others beyond our circle.”

And finally, maybe we engage in this work for no other reason than, as author James Baldwin says, "Because each one of us hopelessly contains the other."

May our work to build authentic community this academic year be done with a deep sense of commitment and hopefulness in our capacity to transform our university, to create a healthier, more diverse and inclusive community.