By Dean of Students Maya Deitz
This was the motto of one of my Army Commanders. For the entire unit to function, we had to trust that each individual person and section was owning their piece of the exercise, and was contributing to the whole with integrity, courage, and honor. When we each owned our part, we performed well. Moreover, we enjoyed the work because the culture of excellence was understood and shared. We owned this culture.
Culture is just what a group of people agree to, and it is time that we all own Principia’s culture. This is a community built on ideals of relationship – both human and divine. We love because God first (and always) loves us. We forgive because we are forgiven, over and over again. We extend grace because God extends it to us. It is also a community built on a commitment to growth – both spiritual and intellectual. One of the most quoted lines on our campus from Mary Baker Eddy is that “progress is the law of God” (Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures 233), implying we need not accept stagnancy in any aspect of this experience. And perhaps most importantly, it is a community built on serving a higher cause – that of hope, and goodness, and service to others. These are the foundations of our culture as I understand it – rooted in Christian Science and lived daily by everyone, to the best of their ability. I have no doubt that faculty and staff want to see students succeed, and that students want to thrive in whatever field and community calls to them.
Part of our culture has been shaped by community standards. Standards, policies, rules, guidelines, etc. exist not to infantilize anyone, but rather to act as boundary markers or guard rails, signaling when someone is in territory that is no longer conducive to achieving the ideals mentioned above. Every community has some form of standards, and healthy communities talk about, reimagine, and come to agreement about them regularly. Communities rely on the integrity of their members to abide by those standards, even (and perhaps especially) when no one is watching.
These conversations have not occurred, though, and motives on all sides have come into question. Consequently, the integrity of the system, and the individuals within it, have been weakened. We therefore need a shift in culture – away from hoping someone else will take care of what needs fixing, or will create the perfect conditions for one’s voice or perspective to be heard, and towards working collaboratively to create the kin-dom here and now, in our little patch of southern Illinois.
That shift in culture starts within, feeling valued and valuable innately as a unique expression of the infinite Mind. It requires gratitude, for all the good that does exist here at Principia and in our individual lives. It includes an assumption of good will on the part of others, as we are all generally trying to do right. It depends on a willingness to be brave, and not just safe, in our conversations. We cannot address what we do not talk about. And finally, we must own our part in what we are, and could become.
I am seeking your help in shifting our culture by asking you to own a piece of it. I want you to help us reimagine our standards and accountability system. I have asked each house to draft its ideal standards and accountability policy. The only constraint is that all proposals must be legal. They ought to consider potential unintended consequences on relationships and community, and how to hold people in fellowship who may not agree completely with the proposal. I’ve asked the house presidents to produce their proposals by Week 2 of next semester. At that point, I’ll host a community discussion about the different proposals, and this feedback will be given to the Strategic Planning group working to enhance the student experience.
If you have questions about my request, or would characterize our culture or the problem set differently, I invite you to talk to me. I am available to anyone during lunch on Fridays in GDR 1, by email, or by appointment.