Restoring Community

Published in the August, 2021 edition of Wesleyan Perspectives

There was so much that drew me to Kentucky Wesleyan. The College’s history, exceptional faculty, energetic leadership and base of alumni support were a great start, but there was something more. Spend any time walking the campus, and you’ll get a sense of what I mean. There’s a real connectedness here, a sort of instant familiarity that lends itself to a sudden but meaningful attachment. That feeling is extended to anyone who visits; it gives Kentucky Wesleyan its unique character, and it binds together generations of alumni. Since it’s the feeling of community that brought me here, I’d like to share some thoughts on the significance of that community, both from a newcomer’s perspective and in light of what we’ve all experienced this past year. Community means something different at Kentucky Wesleyan College, and it’s sure to mean something very different in the decades to come.

This past year did all that it could to destroy community. When travel restrictions, telework policies and mandatory K-12 distance education took effect, communities suffered. When small businesses shuttered, parks closed and distancing requirements pushed us apart, literally, we lost all the stuff that gives life to life. We retreated to our homes and looked for community in virtual spaces; what we found was alienation and anger. Over the course of this past year, division has grown at a terrifying rate, speeded by social media and cheered on by news outlets who found pleasure and profit in sowing discord. We will emerge from the pandemic eventually but will suffer the legacies of mistrust, suspicion and polarization for years.

In America, restoring community will take more than just pulling back mask mandates and ending capacity restrictions. It will ask us to rethink how we can and how we should work together. It will mean reconsidering the obligations we owe and the respect we deserve. In this season of anxiety and uncertainty, I am comforted by the knowledge that Kentucky Wesleyan College will play an essential role in the restoration of community in America and around the world. Community is the fundamental stuff of Kentucky Wesleyan. It’s what animates people and places. It’s built into how we educate and how we learn. Community will be easier to restore by Kentucky Wesleyan’s family because it never left our campus.

A return to campus brings the restoration of openness, of the giving nature and contemplative character of Wesleyan’s community. These qualities were embedded in the College’s charter, found new life in the promises of The Wesleyan Way and are again actuated by the Three Pillars campaign. Kentucky Wesleyan’s openness of spirt allows students to optimize their education by creating meaningful life-long relationships with peers and professors. Through those relationships, students develop intellectual self-confidence, social intelligence and emotional balance. That openness is expressed authentically; here we speak without fear and listen without suspicion. Openness allows Wesleyan’s community to connect, not just communicate.

Those connections allow us to give and give freely of our time and of ourselves. And Kentucky Wesleyan is known by that giving. When members of the community are gathered, they give with attentions undivided; listening, not just waiting to speak. There is no artifice, no guile or contrivance. Giving, of course, carries other expectations for the care and comfort of community. Kentucky Wesleyan’s community shares its material, intellectual and spiritual wealth within and without. Learning is a natural byproduct of giving. Service to others exposes us to new understandings and ideas. We are shaped by those experiences and become better for them.

New experiences create new opportunities to contemplate and understand. We gain that understanding through sympathy and develop empathy in the process. Examining life from new perspectives, paradigms, orientations and disciplines gives us the courage to lead and the resilience to pursue lives rich with meaning. Purpose is found in those contemplations; we discover ourselves in the discovery of others. At Kentucky Wesleyan, students align curriculum with discovered purpose and the results are inspiring. Here, the college experience is more than the sum of its parts. It has lasting significance because it is organized around purpose and meaning, not discrete and disconnected interactions chasing some ambiguous end. Community is the organizing principle, and community is what will propel the College forward.

All members of Kentucky Wesleyan’s extended family have parts to play in the restoration of community. Faculty and staff will continue to model those special qualities that lend Kentucky Wesleyan its unique tender-hearted, congenial character. New and returning students will replicate those actions and contribute to the College’s mission. Graduates will multiply the reach of Wesleyan’s community to near and distant places. When they return, they’ll be refreshed and renewed. Friends and partners of our campus will share in those same bonds of community, joining in mutual support and celebrating our collective successes.

I hope this year brings us closer to what we had, but I also hope for better; that when we return, we return with arms outstretched and hands opened and that we do so with a new appreciation for the community we had, the community we have and the community we need. This past year did what it could to disrupt and destroy, but Kentucky Wesleyan remained solid –  fixed on pillars built by members of a dedicated community. I look forward to a season of renewal and hope to see you,

James P. Cousins, PhD

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs

Kentucky Wesleyan College