March 01, 2011

A Sense of Place

President Scott Bierman and wife,  Melody Bierman What is it that makes every feature of this campus seem so sacred? When we are asked to describe Beloit College to people who have not heard of it, I suspect most of us say it is “a small liberal arts college in southern Wisconsin.” We might go a little further and mention that it is “highly selective.” But it is too infrequently that we add one of the most essential elements that define the experience here: We are a “residential college.” Beloit is home to students for their four years in every sense of the word. Because it is their home, students have a right, in fact, a responsibility, to care deeply about how it functions, what it looks like, how it feels. And, because it is their home, students develop a deep sense of ownership in the physical spaces in which they live.

But it does not stop with students. As I travel around the country meeting my extended Beloit College family, I regularly invite alumni, parents, and friends back to Beloit. I ask them to return home. I want our family to know that the college will always be their home, and they are welcome to return whenever they can find the time and resources. I say that when they do this they will feel the restorative powers that can be felt only by physically returning to this home. They, too, have a right to feel a pride of ownership in this place.

But even on a historic campus like ours, change does happen, and it happens for good reason. The addition of the new Hendricks Center for the Arts is a wonderful example. Not only is this a terrific space that animates our dance, music, and theatre programs, but it also blurs the boundaries between the college and the town in all the right ways. At the celebratory opening of the building, Diane Hendricks noted that the college has finally “come down off the hill.” She meant that the relationship between the city and the college would forever be richer and more intimate, and we will all be better off because of it.

We take great pride in the ways that Beloit College awakens, enlivens, and sharpens the life of the mind. We are right to do so. But we are missing something essential if we do not also recognize and relay the importance of this place. Place matters.

As you proudly talk about this place, you can correctly say that we are a highly selective liberal arts college in Beloit, Wisconsin. But it would be even more correct to emphasize that we are a residential college. We are home to 20,000 or so family members. Our campus is dotted and defined by Indian mounds, studded with elderly oaks, criss-crossed by paths leading to and from buildings of understated elegance that grow in substance and meaning the more you spend time with them—just like the Beloiters who lived and worked there. And we reside within a renewed and richly entrepreneurial city.

This is your home. And, as you’ll see in the pages of this issue, today’s stewards of the college know it, and take this responsibility exceptionally seriously. What a glorious responsibility it is.

-President Scott Bierman

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