Jake B. Schrum, President, Southwestern University

Making Sense of the World Around Us

Shortly after Benazir Bhutto was assassinated, I had the opportunity to speak with one of our recent graduates who had met Bhutto when she came to Southwestern in 2005 to give our Shilling Lecture. He told me how much meeting her had helped him better understand the recent developments in Pakistan, and what an impact her death was having on him.

Comments such as this reinforce for me the value of the education we provide at Southwestern.

In addition to bringing world figures such as Benazir Bhutto to campus so students can meet them in person, we have professors such as Bob Snyder (profiled in this issue), who give our students the knowledge to make sense of today’s complicated world. And in turn, our graduates go on to careers in which they help others make sense of the world. Farhana Mahmood Ali, a 1996 graduate who now works as an analyst for the Rand Corporation, is just one of these. You can also read a fascinating profile of her in this magazine.

In this issue, we also address the subject of communication—an appropriate topic in this election year. These days, real communication often gets lost with the growing popularity of instant messaging, text messaging and other formats made possible by modern technology. Many of these new forms of communication do not value the nuances of genuine conversations. You don’t get to see the reaction on someone’s face. And what you are trying to say might easily be misunderstood.

Another strength of Southwestern is that we teach students to communicate. One of the things I have tried to stress during my tenure as president here is developing a culture of “considerate conversations,” in which we do not merely hear what another person says—we truly listen. When we practice considerate conversations, we do not just consider another person’s viewpoint, we truly appreciate it. Considerate conversations are at the heart of two of our core values—Respecting the worth and dignity of persons and Fostering diverse perspectives.

Yes, we still have occasional “e-mail wars.” But we also have students taking on the challenge of communication in very meaningful ways. For example, two years ago Natalie Goodnow ’07 directed a humorous, but thought-provoking theatre project about e-mail wars. Last year, some of our students wrote and produced a Theatre for Social Justice Project that addressed the issue of racism among high school students. And this spring, seniors Andrew Mayo and Martin Stanberry put on a two-day conference designed to foster dialogue about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Communication is about putting yourself in other people’s shoes. My late father was a master at conversation. He believed he could learn something from people with whom he strongly disagreed. If we REALLY communicated with each other, we might have fewer conflicts in the world today.

Jake B. Schrum ’68
President, Southwestern University