Message from the Dean: Radical Poise

November 15, 2016

By Stephen Esquith, Dean of the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities. 

RCAH has entered its 10th Anniversary year, and there is much to celebrate. We have indeed been “living our learning,” and as the challenges to the values of freedom, tolerance, and social justice have mounted in recent days, RCAH faculty, staff, alumni, and students have demonstrated that we are strong enough to meet them head on. 

The wellbeing of all members of the RCAH community remains our highest priority, and over the coming year I am confident that as we celebrate our successes we will also find new ways to build this community so that it is wider and deeper than ever. That is what it means for us to be a beacon for the rest of the University and for public higher education in general. That is what it means for us to be griots who sing the praises of our elders, our youth, and the many newcomers who should feel welcome in our land.

As RCAH has become more diverse and inclusive, we have realized how important it is to talk about our differences with each other and act with compassion towards one another. In RCAH speaking and doing in this way are closely tied together. They are inherent in our civic engagement practice, which runs through the entire curriculum. They are what it means for us to live our learning. Active listening and compassionate action are opposite sides of the same coin in RCAH.

We need the ability to stay focused on our positive goals and go to the roots of the challenges we face now more than ever. There are those who call for a return to a less inclusive idealized past. Democracy requires greater inclusion, participation, and compassion, not less. As Sheldon Wolin has said, democracy may appear to be a “fugitive” in hard times, driven underground by powerful elites and the bombast of what passes for politics. It is our responsibility to coax democracy, that is, the power (kratia) of the people (demos), out of hiding.

This is what it means to be radical in a time of reactionary politics. It will take poise. It will take time. In the words of another radical democrat, Myles Horton, it requires tenacity over “the long haul.” As we encounter challenges to this vision of radical democracy, we will need a new level of poise: not just composure and patience, but radical poise.

Ten years is just the first step.