Few would disagree that this past election year in America was a polarizing one. Poll after poll has shown that there are strong opinions on all sides — and the tension has continued into the first few months of this year.
Amongst it all, Unity College President Dr. Melik Peter Khoury has implored students, faculty, and staff to stay open-minded, respectful, and civil.
“As America’s Environmental College, we have a special responsibility and opportunity. As an academic institution, we have a responsibility to provide a safe and welcoming space for expressions of intellectual, political, identity, and philosophical difference. As Unity College we have a special opportunity to do so with grace,” he wrote in early November. “What this election has put before us is an opportunity to be a model community — an opportunity to bridge the gap and find common ground with people who feel differently than we do.”
President Khoury then demonstrated these words through actions, both big and small.
For a larger, longer impact, he announced The Unity Commission on Community Standards & Inclusivity, a presidential initiative designed to provide Unity College students and community members with a natural, comfortable, and effective pathway to communicate and resolve concerns with a cross-functional body of Unity College professionals whose sole charge is to hear college community concerns, represent those matters to the Unity College President, ensure appropriate and timely resolution, maintain communication with the concerned party or parties, and provide information to the larger community as appropriate.
It was the small, however, that brought the college national attention. He followed the commission announcement with a more personal note to the Unity Community urging all of us to “break bread” together.
“In the spirit of Unity, my simple offer to all Unity College employees is this: spend time between now and Thanksgiving getting to know a Unity student you don’t usually get to spend time with over a cup or a meal and I will pick up the tab,” he wrote. “Just pay then bring your receipt to the President’s Office with the name or names of the student(s) you got to know a little better.”
“It’s hard to get the big things right if we don’t get the small things right.”
Lunch together. Coffee together. A seemingly simple solution to a larger issue. And one that Associated Press reporter Matt Sedensky saw as joining colleges across the U.S. in “fighting back… to restore some semblance of decorum.”
President Khoury “broke bread” with at least one Trump supporter wanting to make sure the campus listens to our conservative students; he did the same with Hillary and Bernie voters, who met with him to express misgivings over the direction of U.S. environmental policy going forward, especially regarding employment opportunities in the land agencies and Cabinet nominees who deny the scientific reality of climate change.
The president has always been clear in his communications to students: We are a diverse, free-speech campus. Our work in the classroom will continue to be based solely on evidence, facts, and science — and outside the classroom, we will avoid discussions not based in fact or designed solely to arouse conflict.
“We cannot stop talking,” President Khoury said in the article. “We cannot be disunited.”
We are, after all, Unity.