Incoming University of Michigan freshmen should seize control of their education, take risks and consider the role they will play in building a stronger campus community, President Mark Schlissel urged at the annual New Student Convocation.
Speaking to students and their families at the Sept. 1 ceremony at Crisler Arena, Schlissel implored them to take intellectual risks and seek new experiences, whether they be exploring new and unfamiliar subjects, reaching out to people from different backgrounds, or thinking differently and deeply about issues.
“As students, your richest opportunity to learn beyond the curriculum is to engage across your differences,” Schlissel said. “We learn more from people who are not like ourselves. We learn more when we critically and honestly examine views that are different from our own.”
Schlissel also addressed how differences also can be used as a weapon to harm or threaten others.
In the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy and incidents during which hateful messages circulated on U-M’s campus, Schlissel said that while discussion of conflicting perspectives is one way people learn, hateful displays instead are meant to discourage learning and provoke fear.
While the university will not take actions that violate its responsibility to ensure freedom of expression, Schlissel assured the students he would work to protect the physical safety of community members, as well as speak out against hate.
He told the freshmen it was up to them to decide how they will respond to expressions of hate as well.
“We all share a responsibility for rejecting hate in our academic and campus environment here at the University of Michigan,” Schlissel said. “And we all have the freedom to choose how we engage in and work to solve one of the most difficult issues that we face in our society today — the balance between freedom of expression and our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.”
“I hope our choices begin with unity,” the president continued. “Actively supporting one another will help us build strength and resilience as a community, and maintain control of our own educational goals and purposes.”
U-M received more than 64,000 freshman and transfer applications this year. The incoming class hails from all parts of Michigan, 49 of 50 U.S. states and 67 other nations around the world.
Kedra Ishop, associate vice provost for enrollment management, said each incoming student has the potential to make their mark on the campus and society. She highlighted some of what the newest Wolverines have already accomplished on their road to U-M.
Ishop said the incoming class comes from more than 2,100 high schools and 350 colleges in urban, rural and suburban communities. Nearly one in eight students identify as minorities that have been traditionally underrepresented in higher education, and one in nine are the first in their family to attend college.
“Each of you sitting in this arena tonight is well-positioned to achieve your brand of greatness,” Ishop said. “I challenge you today, at the beginning of this bold adventure, to reflect on the change you want to see in this world and continually take advantage of your four years at the University of Michigan to accomplish it.”
Provost Martin Philbert encouraged the class to explore courses and activities different from what they’ve previously done. He said that during this journey, they will find perspectives that will challenge their own beliefs.
“Our mission statement commits us to educating students who will ‘challenge the present and enrich the future,'” Philbert said. “The key to doing so is the thoughtful examination of what you believe, testing yourself with logic, with evidence and with the bright light of opposing ideas.”
The university’s commitment to the exchange and exploration of ideas is “fundamental” Philbert said, helping us shape public policies that reflect a wide range of experiences.
“And, importantly, the exchange of ideas here helps us develop skills in listening respectfully and appreciating the differences among us, skills that will prove valuable throughout your lives.”