Editor's Note: Sustaining Our Community
Two years ago, we devoted our Spring 2015 issue to showcasing global alumni in action. The cover depicted three-time alumna Fouzia Saeed (B.S. ’82, M.S. ’84, Ph.D. ’87), a pioneer in Pakistan’s movement against sexual harassment; among other stories, we wrote about Habib Essid (M.S. ’75), who studied agricultural economics at the U and was elected prime minister of Tunisia just days before the issue went to press. We profiled Agam Sheth (Ph.D. ’04), a scientist with Merck & Co. who is active in the Alumni Association’s Philadelphia network and spent three months in Delhi on a project aimed at improving health care delivery for impoverished women in remote villages.
My editor’s note in that issue was titled No Foreigners Among Us. In it, I reflected on how being a student at the University in the 1980s helped me—forced me, actually—to overcome my fear of those who are different from me. I observed that the word “foreigner,” with its vaguely pejorative connotations, has thankfully fallen out of common usage, in contrast to how it was when I was growing up. I ended the column with this: “At the Alumni Association we talk about being a global community. It’s not mere marketing jargon. Our connections to each other through the University we share are an invitation to grow and to expand our worldview in much the same way we did as students. In connecting with the global community of alumni, we’re likely to discover that there are no foreigners among us.”
I am not in the habit of quoting myself, but I think it bears repeating that the global nature of the University, and hence of the alumni community, benefits us throughout our lifetimes. The University of Minnesota, and indeed all of American higher education, thrives because it is international. The Alumni Association now has 20 international networks, the most recent in the UK, and they continue to grow under the able leadership of International Alumni and Travel Director Audra Gerlach Ferrall (B.A. ’04). Audra recently attended alumni gatherings in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, and Jakarta; on page 44 we write about a gathering in Shanghai. And this year, for the first time, the Alumni Association board has an international member, Akira Nakamura (M.B.A. ’92), who lives in Tokyo.
When we say we’re a global community, we put equal emphasis on each word. On January 30, the University launched a campaign called “We All Belong Here.” Maroon and gold posters with variations on that theme began popping up all over campus: “Rise above intolerance;” “Strive to be inclusive;” “Respect everyone every day;” and my personal favorite, “Our differences drive our greatness.” Country of origin is just one of many differences within the campus community that drives our greatness. National affairs in recent weeks are a reminder that we cannot take this source of strength for granted. Keeping our global community strong and vital is up to each of us.