Opening Convocation 2012 Launches New Academic Year
Dean Lawrence Breitborde: Don't be educational 'tourists'
September 12, 2012
by Rana Tahir '13
Lawrence Breitborde, dean of the College and vice president of academic affairs, encouraged Knox College students to push beyond their cultural perceptions during the Opening Convocation ceremony on Monday, September 10.
"It may be hard, but we should not view ourselves as educational tourists," Breitborde said as he delivered the Convocation Address for the start of the 2012-2013 academic year.
In speaking about the educational "tourist," Breitborde, a professor of anthropology, referred to a term used by University of Chicago classicist James Redfield to describe people who view the world through their own "culturally shaped lenses." They choose not to immerse themselves in someone else's culture.
Breitborde, who plans to step down as dean in 2013 after 18 years in that position, stressed what he considered a crucial point of the "Knox experience."
"Knox promotes learning through both study and through experience," he said. If students engage "responsibly, constructively, and humbly with the full campus," they can "learn more than any text, film, exhibit, or performance could provide on its own."
To illustrate his remarks, Breitborde shared personal anecdotes from his experience of living and conducting cultural anthropology research in Liberia.
In one of the anecdotes, he and his wife had just arrived in the unfamiliar country in the 1970s, and they asked where they could find a place to eat. They were advised to walk out of their hotel, turn right, and keep walking.
"It was noisy, it was crowded," he said. Maneuvering in the middle of a crowded street filled with strangers, Breitborde recalled, seemed like "the longest walk of my life." After eating, they returned to their hotel.
In the morning, Breitborde was surprised to find that the restaurant was only half a block away.
Confronted by his own "deeply rooted pre-conceptions," Breitborde said he learned just how hard it was to integrate into a new setting with new and different people. "Willing as I was to shed my cultural lenses, it wasn't so easy," he told the Knox audience in Harbach Theatre.
Knox students have a choice, he said. "You can approach your education here as a tourist, or you can dig in experientially and really learn."
Breitborde offered a few hints on how students can avoid becoming educational tourists and "embrace true learning" instead:
- Students shouldn't question only the assumptions of the information they receive. They also should question their own assumptions.
- Students should try to understand why they study specific works or receive certain assignments - and ask "why" if the answer isn't clear.
- Students must take their education personally, learning from one another and engaging with ideas.
In other Opening Convocation remarks, newly elected Chair of the Knox College Board of Trustees Dushan (Duke) Petrovich '74 shared how Knox changed his life. "Things have changed since 1970," he said. "The one thing that hasn't changed is the Knox experience."
Petrovich said Knox College changed him when a Knox professor pulled him aside as an undergraduate and told him to "really go for it, and not limit yourself."
Petrovich eventually became president of the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company, which makes Extra, Orbit, and other gums and confections.
Knox College President Teresa Amott urged students to be particularly engaged as the elections approach for United States president and other elective offices.
"You will need to mobilize every critical skill you have," she said. "In an election year, there is no better place to be than a liberal arts campus."
Student, faculty, and staff awards also were presented during the Opening Convocation ceremony.
Breitborde presented the Philip Green Wright/Lombard College Prizes for distinguished teaching. An award is usually given to one non-tenured and one tenured faculty member.
Associate Dean Lori Haslem introduced the newly inducted members of Phi Beta Kappa, the nation's oldest honor society based on academic excellence in liberal arts and sciences. This year's inductees were seniors John Cusimano of Tinley Park, Illinois; Sienna Cittadino of Carbondale, Illinois; Katherine Miller of Toledo, Ohio; and Elizabeth Drake of Chesterfield, Missouri. (Photo at right: The Knox College Choir performs at the 2012 Opening Convocation.)
The Elbridge Pierce Prize for scholastic improvement was given to junior Emily Tyl of Downers Grove, Illinois. The Faculty Scholarship Prize was awarded to seniors Anna Meier of Omaha, Nebraska, and John Cusimano of Tinley Park, Illinois.
The Janet C. Hunter Prizes for outstanding service to the Knox community are given to one salaried staff member and one hourly staff member. This year's salaried staff award was given to Tianna Cervantez '06, director of multicultural student advisement. The hourly staff award was given to Barbara Stevenson, a custodian in Knox's Building Services Department. (Photos below: Tianna Cervantez at left, Barbara Stevenson at right.)