Dear Caroline community:
Last night I joined a crowd of students and faculty for the second Abbey Lecture of the year, a discussion of the rural-urban divide in American life and what we can do to reduce it. We hear a lot about divisions in our society. Differences of class, race and geography, partisan divisions and generational disagreements. The categories of division can seem endless and intimidating.
But what struck me last night was that our university is specifically designed to bridge these gaps. We are one of the few institutions in American society that has the incentive, mandate and moral appeal to put people in a real conversation with each other, to ensure that our disagreements never become so important or so. intolerable that we can’t sit in the same room and try to fix them.
The first question from the audience came from a student in a rural community. He asked what “those of us with one foot in both worlds” can do to make a difference, how the “Carhartts-in-college” crowd, as he put it, can bridge the gaps. . Panelists told him to embrace the role of translator, to help the people of Chapel Hill understand the context at home and the people of their own to understand the worldview of Chapel Hill. They spoke about the importance of face-to-face relationships in combating stereotypes and the vital importance of conversations outside your comfort zone in a large and diverse country.
I am okay. This is why “Promoting Democracy” is one of the pillars of our strategic plan, Carolina Next: Innovations for Public Good. This is one of the reasons we welcome students from all parts of North Carolina and all parts of the world. That’s why our faculty and graduates do a good job in every corner of this state, whether it’s a rural county or an urban center. That is why we read books of communists and capitalists, listen to lectures by republicans and democrats and none of that, debate the ideas of the moderate milieu and the immoderate fringe with the same rigor and the same skepticism.
Serving all North Carolinians means approaching our work with an open mind and heart. Our Carolina Across 100 initiative, led by the School of Government and Anita Brown-Graham, aims to bring UNC research to work for every county in the state. After two months of researching and working with dozens of students and campus partners, the results of surveys of state county leaders identified job instability as the focus of our first Carolina Across 100 project. We will accept this important work and the opportunity to serve the state.
At last week’s meeting of the Association of American Universities, we talked a lot about what universities owe democracy. Ronald Daniels, president of Johns Hopkins University, has just written a book on this issue, calling for universities to be places of “voluntary pluralism”. “As places defined by discourse and shared discovery, we should be at the forefront of the experience to promote contact and dialogue through difference,” he says.
No place does it perfectly, but I think Carolina works harder than most. The program in the public speech, which hosted the discussion last night, is one example. Another is the IDEAS in Action program, which emphasizes civic values. The serious activism of our students and faculty also honors our commitment to democracy. Being a bridging institution is often uncomfortable and always difficult, but that’s what we owe to democracy.
Kevin M. Guskiewicz