I could, very easily, be cast as a stereotypical liberal arts student. I’m a double major in the sciences, I studied African studies abroad and I decided this September to learn a third language “just for fun.” This year, on my first day of French class, my professor sat before us after reviewing the syllabus and told the class that the primary lesson he wants us to take away from a semester speaking French is a renewed sense of empathy.
“More and more of the world,” he argued, “is made of people forced to live in a place where their culture and language are not primary. They may feel as you feel when I speak to you in French: confused and yearning for the comfort they knew at home.” He reminded us of the current migrant situation in the Mediterranean and the concern last winter over the growing number of Latin American children who were crossing the border alone. “Though we won’t talk of this every day,” he continued, “I hope that you may never forget a crucial piece of learning a foreign language is learning empathy and compassion. That is what this is all about.”
I fully understand the complexity and difficulty associated with the prioritization committee’s decision to remove majors in three languages. I carry the deepest respect for Provost Brandsen and the faculty on the decision board. Ensuring that Calvin tuition remains affordable is crucial, and I know that the eliminations they suggested come from the great conviction that the Calvin community should be available to students diverse ethnically, culturally and socioeconomically. I agree with that wholeheartedly.
However, I can’t help but lament the departure of three majors that, like French, intrinsically teach empathy and compassion for people across the globe. I can’t help but be disappointed in the loss of professors like my own who are gracefully skilled in the art of cross-culture communication. I can’t help but feel mournful about the downsizing of departments on campus that teach us, as Deuteronomy commanded, to show fierce love for the foreigners among us.
But I also believe in Calvin College and its dedication to reflecting the person of Christ in every corner of our education. I know this, from my four years here, to be a place that continually hopes in restoration and action and justice throughout its education model. Many of my fellow students feel Friday’s announcement is fundamentally shaking their faith in Calvin’s adherence to the liberal arts. I hope that it does not begin to shake our compassion as a community. Now, more than ever, we need to remember the deepest lesson our language classes taught us: empathy and understanding. Empathy and understanding for our professors, for our peers and for our school alike, despite all the hurt. Because that, as my French professor so profoundly reminded me this year, is what it is all about. That is what Calvin is all about, and I pray that even with the loss of these majors, compassion may continue to flourish here as I know it does well.