After two years, St. Thomas faculty and staff were finally able to gather in person again to kick off the new academic year at the 2021-22 academic convocation. Speaking to both a live audience inside O’Shaughnessy Educational Center (OEC) auditorium and virtually on Zoom, President Julie Sullivan spoke of the challenges still facing the university – and society as a whole – as it continues striving for near normal operations.
The key to overcoming those challenges? Trust in each other.
“As we seek to replenish and sustain our energy and enthusiasm for the new year, I want to stress the need to fortify and rebuild trust in our relationships, within St. Thomas, and in our society,” she said.
Trust, she said, is challenging to articulate because it encompasses many elements, including good intentions, consistency, competency, honesty and integrity.
“Trust and the vulnerability it engenders are essential to authentic connection and relationships,” Sullivan said. “They are the foundation for the deepest and most genuine encounters with others.”
She highlighted six steps to help foster trust, including:
- Be more human: “As we rekindle relationships and form new ones, let us take the time to truly know each other on a personal level and to be fully present with and for each other. Let us foster genuine relationships that go below the surface and reach new levels of vulnerability and emotional support.”
- Assume good intentions: “Don’t assume someone’s views or decisions because they are different than what you think or would have done must be driven by ill intent or inappropriate influence. In most cases alternative explanations exist for others’ actions and views. Take the time to discern what those are.”
- Build belonging and create equitable inclusion: “Proactively seek to understand the needs and concerns of others. People who feel mis-seen and misheard will not trust you, and understanding others’ needs and concerns requires active questioning and listening. Trust builds when people feel they are part of a community that takes their voices into account. Create equitable inclusion. Any time people feel they are blocked from opportunities because of their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, ethnic or religious group, disability, or other reasons, it’s hard to expect them to trust the institutions they feel are marginalizing them.”
- Pursue truth: “Our conviction ‘Pursuit of Truth’ calls us to, ‘value intellectual inquiry as a lifelong habit, the unfettered and impartial pursuit of truth in all its forms, the integration of knowledge across disciplines, and the imaginative and creative exploration of new ideas.’ The liberal arts foundation of our education develops a broader and more expansive understanding of the world, an understanding of nuance and complexity that is necessary to discern truth. We must ensure that we hone our students’ critical thinking skills and abilities to evaluate the reliability of information and its sources.”
- Dialogue across difference: “Our differences and disagreements do not define us. The Catholic social teaching principles of the dignity of the human person and of solidarity remind us that we are all sacred members of one human family and have mutual obligations to support the rights and development of all people. We are called upon to resist polarization and to explore all differences through respectful dialogue. Only through patient, respectful dialogue do people grow beyond the limitations of their experience, perceptions, and opinions and advance to new levels of understanding and trust. Human dignity is violated and the conditions for trust are destroyed when we resort to demonizing rhetoric.”
- Consistently seek to advance the common good: “Our commitment to conditions for the common good, such as anti-racism, health and educational equity, and sustainability, cannot be intermittent and triggered only by reaction to crisis. It must be consistent and ongoing. We become a trusted partner in pursuit of the common good if we show up consistently to learn from, and work with, others to make positive change. We build trust within St. Thomas and in the broader community by being dependable, humble, empathetic, and consistently engaged in the hard work of advancing the common good.”
With an urging for all to practice these steps, Sullivan concluded her remarks by emphasizing how important the St. Thomas mission is and the part we all play.
“We are entrusted with the whole person education of young (and some not so young) adults,” she said. “Any of you could become a person someone looks back upon and says changed their life in some way.”
The event also included an invocation and land acknowledgment from Father Chris Collins, vice president of the Office for Mission and a reading from Paul Mellick, chair of faculty and associate professor and chair of Health and Exercise Science at the Morrison Family College of Health. In addition, new Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Eddy Rojas recognized staff and faculty who have reached milestones and new faculty members introduced themselves via a prerecorded video segment.