On the importance of holding onto our communal values

The meaning of Spartan Life

I have been carrying this 5.5 x 8.5-inch yellow paper with me everywhere I’ve gone since mid-September. I look at it almost every day and read the five affirmations that constitute the values of the Share the Vision program.

Many of you may have never heard of Share the Vision or only know it because you’ve seen someone wearing a wristband or received a water bottle displaying the name. Nonetheless, I don’t wish to discuss the history of the program or the program itself; rather, I wish to discuss what it stands for.

In theory, Share the Vision is a perfect program which provides Case Western Reserve University with the following purpose: “To realize our vision of a just and humane campus community, we strive to: (1) Support the worth and dignity of each individual; (2) Respect new ideas and encourage examination and discussion of differing opinions; (3) Appreciate and enjoy our rich cultural, ethnic and racial diversity; (4) Strive for excellence and integrity in teaching, scholarship, research and service and; (5) Promote justice and compassion on our campus and in our world.”

I believe I would be hard-pressed to find someone who wouldn’t agree with these five statements. In fact, I’m fairly confident that if I gave anyone a copy of my little yellow card they wouldn’t be able to dispute these five bullet points in any way.

All semester, I have been writing about this vibrant campus community of scholars. The affirmations adopted in 1990 by the Share the Vision campaign are exactly what this campus needs. They call for dignity, dialogue, diversity, integrity and justice respectively. Indeed, these are five principles by which to live a curious, rich and humane life.
Yet we ignore Share the Vision and what it stands for. We go about our weeks without regard for others or how we can become a meaningful community. We ask questions, go to class and complete assignments, but only because we want an A. We trade thinking and learning for a piece of paper and a high GPA. We do not care about our campus community or thought for the sake of thought.

However, I am a realist and this is a research university. In order for professors to attain tenure and the university to keep its doors open, research must be a major focus of the institution. But what’s so hard about simply living according to the five affirmations I’ve just laid out?

The fact of the matter is that when we become a community, our morale increases, our campus becomes a happier place and our research gets better. Specifically, when we live our lives by these five points of dignity, dialogue, diversity, integrity and justice, we foster collaboration and advancement through mutual respect and collegiality.

“[CWRU] aspires to be recognized internationally as an institution that imagines and influences the future.” This is the official vision of the university and it will achieve this goal in four different ways. One such way is to “nurture a community of scholars who are cooperative, collegial and committed to mentoring and inclusion.”

This is the message I’ve been promoting each week in this column because I have not seen this vision on campus since my freshman orientation on a beautiful week in August 2010.

I distinctly remember walking around the main quad during orientation unfamiliar with the sights and sounds of campus and participating in ice-breaking games. My orientation leader, a tiny junior from Kansas, was flawless in making me happy to be here. She abolished the keen awkwardness and aloofness that accompanies the shock of being somewhere new.

I remember walking through a tunnel of shouting white shirts and outstretched arms on my way into DiSanto Field’s bleachers to watch an awe-inspiring orientation leader boogie. When I went onto the field to fill in the huge bubble-lettered “CWRU,” I was elated, inspired and happily anxious for the start of my undergraduate career.

This is not a piece about orientation. However, the enthusiasm and passion orientation leaders bring to the first few weeks of classes each fall embodies the spirit of community that should fill this campus. We need their spirit to linger all year and not dissipate after week two.

When I look around campus and see how students treat one another or hear some of the comments faculty members make, I wonder how we have abandoned such positive beliefs. Do we really care that little about other students? Is it that we only care about ourselves? Don’t we value knowledge and thinking more than merely getting a piece of paper?

These are questions each of us needs to ask. If we choose to live exclusively within our own worlds, we are choosing to exist in fantasy worlds. We learn through comparison and difference; without engagement with others, we cannot grow.

I do not want to see the sentiment and values of Share the Vision’s five affirmations displayed only during orientation. I believe in orientation magic, and I want to believe that we all have a little orientation leader spirit inside of us.

Since 1947, the National Turkey Federation has presented a live turkey to the President. He grants it a “presidential pardon” and saves it from slaughter. The pardoned turkey has gone to such places as Mount Vernon and Walt Disney World.