As a Franciscan university, grounded in the Catholic and liberal arts traditions, Alvernia is strongly committed to its heritage as a welcoming, open community for people of diverse backgrounds. The core values emanating from our Bernardine Sisters and the Franciscan commitment to fostering “right relationships” of harmony and mutual respect provide a distinctive context for embracing the diversities of origin, outlook, and experience in our academic community and in our world. As a Catholic university, dedicated to the education of “the whole person,” we seek to promote our students’ development spiritually and emotionally as well as intellectually. Essential to this mission is a commitment to the free expression of ideas and to values-based dialogue on contemporary issues — what Pope Francis has called a “culture of encounter” — as well as to the civil and charitable discourse at the heart of a Catholic university and a democratic society.
Emphasizing the moral and ethical dimension of contemporary issues and promoting interfaith dialogue have special importance, rooted in the mission of our Franciscan sponsors. Building on this commitment, the university has expanded related programs through the Holleran Center for Community Engagement and the O’Pake Institute for Leadership, Ethics, and Public Service. In partnership with Campus Ministry, the Special Assistant to the President for Mission, and others, the Holleran Center has developed a range of initiatives geared to promote mutual respect, understanding and appreciation of diverse faith traditions. These include establishment of an interfaith Prayer and Reflection room, recognition of outstanding student accomplishment related to interfaith work through the Fromm Interfaith Award, sponsorship of the annual Interfaith Lecture, and leadership of our participation in A Common Heart, Reading’s community-based initiative that promotes interfaith understanding.
Alvernia also seeks to promote campus-wide intercultural competency that values both similarities and differences among all persons. We are called to embrace local and global communities in our roles as ethical leaders and engaged citizens of our world. This process starts for our students as early as Freshman Orientation, which includes instruction and dialog about cultural differences. It extends throughout students’ education via curricular, co-curricular and extracurricular programming. We seek to expand and enhance all these efforts.
As part of our efforts to promote an inclusive, welcoming campus community, the university is developing programming around three areas to encourage more intentional, inclusive engagement: interpersonal, intercultural and interfaith. These three areas of focus, embedded in the university’s Inclusive Engagement Plan, will help Alvernia graduates to navigate the rapid social changes of the 21st century. The university integrates its efforts for inclusive engagement into its curriculum by encouraging dialogue on difficult issues in classroom discussions and through its community lecture series. In addition, interpersonal, intercultural and interfaith discussions are being integrated into all levels of the curriculum — from first-year core classes through senior capstones and graduate programs.
Outside of the classroom, plans are in development to promote experiential opportunities — both locally and globally. The goal of these plans is to expand students’ perspective and enable them to experience different cultures and communities, so as to complement activities and events offered by the Office of Inclusive Engagement, Campus Ministry, academic departments, our two “centers,” and other areas of the university.
Recruiting a diverse student body has been an important goal of our strategic plan. There is now enhanced emphasis to expand these efforts and to recruit a comparably diverse faculty and staff. Several initiatives are being developed, in conjunction with human resources, admissions, and academic administrators, to strengthen institutional progress in this regard. Alvernia is positioned well for these efforts. Ninety-four percent of our faculty and staff believe the university’s climate fosters respect for diverse backgrounds. Yet we acknowledge humbly that we can always do better and be more proactive in strengthening our efforts as a inclusive, welcoming community, dedicated to preparing our students to be “ethical leaders with moral courage” in a culturally diverse nation and global society.