By STANLEY HENDERSON, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Life
A Door Opens
Frank Bruni, writing in Sunday’s New York Times, answered that question with a plea to use college as a time to “diversify friends and influences, rummage around in fresh perspectives, [and] bridge divides.” He went on to assert, “Now more than ever, college needs to be an expansive adventure, yanking students toward unfamiliar horizons and untested identities rather than indulging and flattering who and where they already are.”
It strikes me that the University of Michigan-Dearborn is exactly the place for that to happen. The people, the faiths, the cultures, the race and ethnicities that abound here give all of us—students, faculty, staff, and administration—a chance to include all of the differences around us into a new, more open, version of ourselves that can help us say to intolerance and prejudice, “That’s not how we act in a community.”
Last week I was talking to a student about politics and commented that, although he and I disagreed on a lot of things, we seemed to be able to discuss with each other rather than just cuss each other—as too often happens in our polarized world. “That’s because I’ve learned how to listen, Vice Chancellor,” he said, “so I can hold my beliefs but also be open to others’ perspectives.” I think he has a great understanding of what community is all about.
When an American college has as many Muslims as Roman Catholics in the student body, where a larger percentage of the school’s students are of color than on flagship campuses, where 52 countries comprise the birth countries of US citizens enrolled, there is a treasure of diversity for students to learn from. That treasure is UM-Dearborn. To stay only with those like you, to never get to know someone of another race; someone born in France, or Brazil, or Oman, or Lebanon; someone with a faith different from yours; someone just different would be a tragedy. Those in our community will bring us so much if we only walk through the Open Door of a new year.
A Door Closes
This year, however, I am reminded that often when one door opens, another closes. That is the case with me this fall. I have decided to retire after 10 years here and almost 45 years in higher education, and this will be my last fall semester as your vice chancellor.
Still, the door that closes when I leave will not be one of sadness but joy at having had the incalculably good fortune and blessing to have found my way to being “the Students’ Vice Chancellor” at UM-Dearborn. I know, in fact, I was meant to be at this university. I have learned so much here—about other faiths, customs, cultures; about the challenges and triumphs of our immigrant families; about service and commitment. In short, I’ve learned about what it means to be in a community where everyone is a member, a participant, a contributor, where making a difference is expected.
I started talking about UM-Dearborn as a “community of higher education, not an institution of higher education” about eight years ago. After about a year, some folks said, “You’ve got to change that speech; it’s getting boring.” I persevered because when I said those words, people nodded and agreed. Then about five years ago, students started quoting me, “As Vice Chancellor Henderson says, ‘We are a community.’” That was flattering to my ego, but I wanted it to be about more than just what I thought. Then a couple of years ago students stopped saying, “As Vice Chancellor says,” and instead began saying simply, “We are a community.” It meant our students had internalized the notion of community, it had become a part of who they are, not something they quoted from me. It was, perhaps, the greatest honor I have ever received.
Each of you reading this (and the thousands who went before you in the last 10 years) has touched me more than you will ever know. I will always have a part of each of you with me in my heart.