The following is a brief statement that I was privileged to make during orientation 2008, welcoming incoming transfer students and our class of 2012:
I am trained as a criminologist and actually have spent most of my career teaching and doing research in that field. My current work focuses on community health problems and solutions. Students are responsible directly for this shift from crime to health, and I have the great good fortune to be involved in the two most exciting projects of my career. I think this says a lot about the community – the intellectual community – that you are joining. I am deeply committed to my research and my teaching, but I am even more deeply interested in learning, and I learn every day from my colleagues and from my students.
My research and teaching now focus on projects in the Dominican Republic and Nicaragua. SOMOS is the student project that works in the Dominican Republic, and SHC is the group working in Nicaragua. Working with groups of students who are committed to improving health and health care in two communities, in two nations, and in the region and world, I have found it necessary to re-think what I know and how I approach knowledge and its value. My students challenge me to help them find relevant systematic research to guide their efforts so that they can go beyond just doing nice things for needy people. They challenge me to show them how to understand unfamiliar cultures and social arrangements so that they can work effectively as partners with these communities in finding long-term solutions. And they invite me to demonstrate that knowledge is power.
I’ve been at W&M long enough to have formed some reasonably well grounded impressions about students and the “student culture,” and I’d like to share a couple of those impressions with you. First, many look at the campus and see homogeneous 18-22 year olds with common backgrounds and widely shared interests and perspectives. Don’t be deceived. Students at W&M are far more diverse than outward appearance would suggest. They come to the College with rich differences in travel, interests, accomplishments, and aspirations. There are huge numbers of groups and cliques that travel and operate just below the surface, just out of sight. They are not fixed and immutable, but rather constantly shifting friendships and associations of people with shared interests of an amazing variety. Second, W&M students are serious (which is not the same thing as “not fun”). In my experience, they are ready to engage ideas, issues, or perspectives at almost any time, day or night.
A word of advice: Slow down. These are good times. Engage, think, reflect, learn — and savor.