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by Ronald A. Williams, President

President Bushís address on terrorism before a joint meeting of Congress contained a number of messages directed to several different audiences. For me, a single paragraph captured the spirit and moral fiber of the vision Prince Georgeís Community College shares with our nation. President Bush asked us to live our lives and hug our children, to be calm and resolute, to uphold the values of America, and to remember why so many have come to this country.

Since the morning of September 11, I have talked to many faculty members, employees, and students. I come away from these conversations moved and impressed with the ways in which we have transformed this terrible tragedy into teachable moments. We have engaged in intellectually vibrant debates and discussions. We have tested our commitment to academic rigor and not come up wanting.

One faculty member told me that, in several classes, Muslim students volunteered to answer questions. Their classmatesí questions were honest, naïve, and sadly uninformed. "Muslims donít eat meat, right?" "Donít you fast for two days at Passover?" "Will your soldiers go to heaven if they kill a Christian, a Jew, or an American?" "Arenít our bibles the same?" "Why donít your women have any rights?" With patience and resolve, the Muslim students taught their classmates a lesson about the need for multicultural education and the value of tolerance and peace. This story is not an isolated one. Faculty members have discussed how to help students understand the meaning of words like ethnocentrism, stereotypes, prejudice, racism, and anti-Semitism. E-mail discussions about racial and religious tolerance have been heartfelt and intelligent.

I now have an answer when faculty struggle with the question: What can I do to help? I ask them to teach their classes and care for their students. I ask them to be calm and resolute in the classroom. I ask them to uphold the values of Prince Georgeís Community College, that is, being accessible, community-centered, and responsive to the educational needs of our richly diverse student body. And I ask them to help students understand why so many international learners come to this country and this college to study.

I thank you for your e-mail, for your professional and compassionate response to our students, and for your efforts to answer their frightened questions. In an e-mail, one faculty member noted that people are entitled to be angry, but that it was also a great time for us to teach. Another faculty member wrote that her department is "using the tragedy as an opportunity to discuss many issues, including stereotyping and the injustices that we could be guilty of . . . ." She also noted that "no matter what our discipline, we can take a positive and proactive role in combating the potential backlash of bigotry our nation may experience" (a backlash that could engulf some of our students).

I am proud to see faculty members embrace the challenge of finding teachable moments in the midst of our national tragedy. My thanks go to all of you. 


The Instructional Area Newsletter, Volume 17, No. 1

Fall 2001