Welcome home, Spartans

08-29-2017

It’s the start of another academic year full of promise and challenge. Students are moving in and getting settled, and to all of them we say welcome, or welcome back, to Michigan State.

President Simon at 2017 Move-inI like to remind our new students at our Fall Welcome Convocation that they really are part of something big here, but we know they’re up to the challenge. As we said at convocation, there’s nobody here who can’t be successful and graduate a Spartan, and we’re here to support all of our students on their journey.

Every year I look forward to joining our large group of volunteers who help students move in. New students in particular arrive with some anxiety as well as enthusiasm. For many, it’s the first time they’ve really been away from home, and our diverse campus community is likely different from the one they’ve left behind.

I know a big campus can appear intimidating, but know that you are welcome here and respected as an individual.

College, of course, is not supposed to be a comfort zone affording protection from ideas, including those with which we strongly disagree. Michigan State upholds higher education’s tradition of academic freedom, and as a public institution we have an obligation to honor constitutional rights, including freedom of expression. We remain firm in this commitment, regardless of the content of the speech. However, campus safety and security are our first obligation.

In the wake of deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier this month, where white supremacists marched across the University of Virginia campus before holding a rally the next day, MSU made the decision to deny a request by Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute to speak here in September due to significant concerns about public safety. Several other universities have made the same decision.

But it is likely that there will be speakers at some point who espouse views that are unpopular, offensive, or counter to some of the values we hold most dear—including our core values of quality, inclusiveness, and connectivity. There will be some with views that deserve public denunciation as hateful and divisive.

As Spartans, we can practice and promote something different. We can practice inclusion. We can pursue discourse and conduct interactions with civility and respect. In our own community, ideas can have rough edges, but people shouldn’t.

In leaving home, family, and friends for this intentional community of scholars, I hope students understand that friendships forged here can last a lifetime. We’re a team—Team MSU—bound together by our aspirations, experiences, traditions, and values.

One of the most thought-provoking activities we share with our neighbors in East Lansing is the One Book, One Community program, which this year selected Saroo Brierley’s A Long Way Home as its reading choice. The account of Brierley’s quest for the home he lost as a child speaks to issues of identity and family and what those can mean to a dislocated or transplanted individual. The film Lion was based on the book, which we think has some meaningful themes to consider as we start our academic year.

Every year recharges the MSU community with new faces and experiences. Let’s make it an extraordinary one. Spartans Will.

 

Listen to President Simon's podcast, where she discusses the coming year at MSU.

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