Welcome to 2017-18 from President Stroble and Provost Schuster

Aug. 28, 2017

The following is a welcome letter and video message to Webster University students for 2017-18 from Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble, president, and Julian Z. Schuster, provost, senior vice president and chief operating officer.

Welcome to the 2017-2018 academic year!

We started this academic year off with a major community event. Just hours before our first graduate classes were held last week, our home campus hosted a solar eclipse viewing party that attracted more than 1,000 people from the community, many who may have never visited our campus. We showcased our talented faculty, staff, students, and alumni with lectures on how solar eclipses affect religion, physics, photography and the behavior of animals and insects, and then we watched the eclipse together while we enjoyed food from area food trucks, music from a disc jockey and kids’ activities.

We also worked with area school teachers and conducted research with their students about the impact of the eclipse on bee behavior. We came together as a community, focusing on something other than ourselves for these brief moments, and experienced shared bonds among us while standing in awe of nature. What a spectacular event!

Summer News around Webster

Earlier this month, construction was completed on Browning Hall, our new interdisciplinary science building on the home campus. Watch for details on the Oct. 19 ribbon cutting ceremony. The building adds much-needed science laboratories, classrooms, offices, and an auditorium. But it was built for more than just space; the building was designed to encourage cross-disciplinary collaborations among faculty and students. We anticipate that will lead to more research and more unique course offerings that provide new learning opportunities for students and community members.

Accreditation is a topic that will compel our attention in the coming year, as Webster University will host a scheduled Higher Learning Commission 10-year review in Spring 2018. Meanwhile, our Vienna location was reaccredited until 2022, news that came on the heels of the accreditations of our Ghana and Greece locations late last year. We have begun plans to further renovate our campus in Cha’Am Thailand and to expand the graduate program in downtown Bangkok.

This summer, we welcomed three new deans – Dr. Simone Cummings at the George Herbert Walker School of Business & Technology, and Dr. Anton “Tony” Wallner at the College of Arts & Sciences, Dr. Michael Cottam as dean and associate vice president of Military Campuses and Online Education – along with more than a dozen new faculty members.  

The Vienna campus hosted the Global Student Leadership Summit, a week-long event for student leaders from our campuses in Webster Groves, Geneva, Vienna, Leiden, Thailand, and Ghana. The students collaborated on how to improve idea sharing and discussed student leadership goals, and they wrote specific action plans for each campus intended to increase student participation at Webster locations around the world. Also, a group of students visited the Ghana campus where they took courses on Global Social Problems and Pan-African Social Movements, and also participated in a broad variety of cultural and interpersonal experiences.

A Welcoming, Inclusive Campus for Webster Students

This year, as last year, we recognizing that many of you are arriving at Webster with bright hopes for your education, but are also feeling anxiety about the dark events swirling around our world. Last year when the semester started, we discussed that summer’s mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, where a murderous gunman targeted members of the LGBTQ community. It prompted us to ask the question, “Who is our neighbor?”

While we at Webster pursued that question, developing and appreciating the neighbors among us, the world around us continues to be marked by movements that retreat from differences rather than celebrate them. Today, thoughts of Charlottesville and Barcelona are in our minds, the targets of more attacks on fellow humans fueled by hatred, bigotry, fear. The names of these cities now take on added significance because of the loss of life, pain, and sorrow we associate with them—Ferguson, St. Paul, Nice, Baton Rouge, Dallas, Munich, Istanbul, Tokyo, Milwaukee, London, Brussels, and Manchester. Now add to that Charlottesville and Barcelona.

In each of these cases, we see people emboldened to turn to violence, hateful speech and actions to provoke and disrespect others, belittle their identity, and attempt to shut down discussion by denigrating them. As humans, we have our own emotional reactions to these events. As academics, we have our own theories about what they reflect about our society. But as members of a global University community, we also see in them an obligation:

  • We must make sure – and reassure through words and actions – that you, our students, feel welcome at Webster.
  • We must continue to foster an inclusive community where such hatred can find no home.
  • We must continue to both preach and practice our core value of diversity and inclusion by embracing all human differences while building on our shared humanity, eliminating discrimination and exclusion in our community.

One way to deliver on this promise: Recognize that in the face of hate and discrimination, silence is not an option. Earlier this month, we made a video message that elaborates on these ideas.

[Watch the video on the importance of an inclusive campus]

Opportunities to Engage on Campus

In the coming year, there will be many opportunities to engage critical discussions, ranging from student activities and guest lectures to annual events such as the Diversity and Inclusion Conference and the Delegates’ Agenda. Already, work has begun on these issues, as a group of students has been working with Student Life staff over the summer to launch a voluntary Inclusion Pledge, which will be accompanied with a student-run social media campaign.

The pledge, and the materials developed around it, are expressions of Webster University’s core values as applied to the world we find themselves navigating in 2017. Through this pledge, we reaffirm the belief that all of us should feel welcome here, that all of us are learning from one another, and that to achieve these, we must all listen, have those uncomfortable conversations, and reach out to understand rather than to judge.

But of course we must be mindful of our landscape where free speech is indeed under duress. A college campus is a place to exercise the unfettered exchange of ideas in an environment where we know and come to learn from people of many different backgrounds, cultures and points of view.

Please take advantage of the many opportunities this year to engage in critical conversations about diversity and inclusion. And bring your own identity, your own experience and your own perspectives to the table to help make Webster a better place.

Elizabeth (Beth) J. Stroble

Julian Z. Schuster
Provost, Senior Vice President, Chief Operating Officer

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