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A View from Kirkland Hall

by Carolyn Dever No Comment

deandeverTo think about the College of Arts and Science is to think about diversity. Every day I speak with great pride, for example, about the range of scholarly disciplines pursued by Arts and Science faculty and students. From chemistry to classics, from physics to psychology to philosophy and everywhere in between, our researchers press deeply into the questions of their disciplines—even as their interdisciplinary innovations help to rearrange those disciplines themselves. 

I speak with great pride, as well, about the diverse backgrounds of our faculty and students. The College of Arts and Science is a truly global community: we are committed to bringing the world’s most talented thinkers to our labs and classrooms, and in partnership with our alumni, to bringing the work of our labs and classrooms to every region of the globe. 

Along with Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos and Provost Richard McCarty, we are committed to socioeconomic diversity by making a Vanderbilt education available to every undergraduate we admit, regardless of ability to pay—and we are committed to insuring that every Arts and Science student graduates free of the burden of student-loan debt. 

Each of us benefits from the increasing ethnic and racial diversity among our faculty, undergraduate and graduate students. I am proud of the national leadership of faculty such as Keivan Stassun, associate professor of astronomy, and Richard Pitt, assistant professor of sociology, in helping minority and underrepresented students gain access to educational opportunities. 

To speak of “diversity” as I have here helps me to communicate to you the dazzling energy and scope of this institution. It has surprised me to recognize, then, that the most profound aspect of my experience of the past several months—my first as interim dean—involves the remarkable coherence of a community almost inconceivably heterogeneous. 

For example, when Jay Dickerson, assistant professor of physics, teaches his undergraduate seminar The Art of Physics and the Physics of Art, he presumes not the opposition of science and art but their inseparability. Understanding of the arts illuminates the understanding of science, and vice versa. Professor Dickerson reminds us that we are not the College of Arts or Science, nor the College of Arts vs. Science; we are the College of Arts and Science.

When Assistant Professor of Anthropology Pierre Colas and his sister were killed early in the fall semester, the faculty, students and staff of Arts and Science came together in an inspiring demonstration of the power of a community. Together we shared in those most human of processes: to find meaning in tragedy, to grieve, to heal. 

This College of Arts and Science is as powerfully centripetal as it is centrifugal—a community whose rich diversity fosters its unity. Through the example of this community I have come to a new appreciation of the importance of the “and” in our name: we are the College of Arts and Science at Vanderbilt University.

Carolyn Dever
Interim Dean

photo credit: Daniel Dubois

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