In 1842 the founders of Ohio Wesleyan University set out to build an educational institution that served intellectually curious students regardless of their family heritage or financial circumstance. Toward this end, our founders secured resources from citizens of Delaware to purchase the abandoned Mansion House Hotel (now Elliott Hall) as the home of their new university. Our founders then traveled to neighboring communities to raise money for subscriptions, scholarships in today’s terminology, to ensure that students whose families lacked financial resources would have full access to an Ohio Wesleyan education. The vast majority of those early students would be the first in their families to benefit from a college education.
Those founding values permeate our university today and reflect one of the great hallmarks of the American residential college. In few places can individuals from such a wide range of backgrounds and life experiences live, learn, work, and play together. A four-person suite in a first-year residence hall may include students from an affluent suburb, the inner city, a small town in middle America, and a country halfway around the world. They include students from families where both parents have advanced degrees and students whose families have no previous college experience. They reflect a variety of ethnic heritages and religious traditions. A student from India once told me she had to go to Ohio Wesleyan to discover that her best friend, a first-year suite-mate, could be from Pakistan.
This fall campuses across the country have struggled in new ways with what it means to value diversity, to respect and value every student, and to understand the impact of history on various individuals and groups of students. No campus is free of the larger social challenges of bias and prejudice, and no campus has all of the answers. Indeed, complacency and the assumption that all is well when all is quiet are perhaps the biggest dangers. The Ohio Wesleyan campus regularly engages in conversations about these matters and continues to look for ways to be more inclusive and to more fully serve a diverse student body. Those conversations, though not always easy, feel natural on a campus that from the beginning sought to serve a diverse population.
Ohio Wesleyan celebrates the diversity that is represented in its student body. This diversity enriches the educational experience of every student and prepares our students for leadership in the rapidly changing world of the 21st century.
Education is the pathway to financial security, meaningful work, engaged citizenship, and an enriched life. Nothing is more important to the preservation of the values of our democratic society than the commitment to make the dream of a college education available to all intellectually curious students and, perhaps most important, to those whose families have not had this experience in the past.
In the Winter 2016 issue of OWU Magazine we include articles reflecting on our commitment to students who are the first in their families to attend college. We share information about resources offered to these students and the perspective of members of our faculty who themselves were first-generation college students.
Because most students whose parents are not college educated also have limited financial resources, the generous support of donors who provide scholarship assistance through the Ohio Wesleyan Fund, the Promise Scholars Program, and endowed scholarships is more important than ever. Indeed, the single largest component of the Connect Today, Create Tomorrow campaign is the enhancement of endowed scholarships. We seek to ensure in perpetuity our ability to fulfill the vision of our founders. And we seek to provide in the future what many alumni report to me Ohio Wesleyan provided them: the support to fulfill a dream that otherwise might not have been fulfilled and to lead to a life they might otherwise never have known.
Thank you for your support of Ohio Wesleyan and for your commitment to the success of every student on our campus.
President, Ohio Wesleyan University