UChicago Aims of Education: 2020


JOHN W.BOYER: Good evening. It's a pleasure to welcome you to the Aims of Education address for2020. All colleges and universities have venerable customs and traditions, and theUniversity of Chicago has more than most. One of our most esteemed annual traditions involves thinking about and even debating the aims of liberal education.Each Fall and the week before classes resume and the new economic year is upon us with full force, we invite a senior faculty member to address the entering first-year class and transfer students with her or his thoughts about liberal education and its meaning and value to our lives.The general title accorded to these talks is adapted from Alfred North Whitehead'sfamous lecture on the aims of education given in 1916 as a presidential address to the Mathematical Association of England. The annual Aims lecture had began as a student initiative at the University of Chicago in the early 1960s, and over the decades, it has become a sturdy and even venerable part of our common and shared history. It is thus part of that system of shared values and our common citizenship that I discussed in the course of greeting you from this chapel a few days ago.The first Aims of Education Address was, in fact, a series of lectures on liberal education held during the 1961, 1962 academic year. An important feature of that event was the participation of Robert Maynard Hutchins who returned to the campus for this occasion, having been retired from the presidency of the university for nearly a decade. Hutchins spoke here in the chapel in the spring of 1962 before an audience as large as this one, and he spoke as he had always done as president in defense of liberal learning.During his presidency, Robert Hutchins gave decisive shape to the traditions and the ideals of liberal learning that still animate our college. It is fitting that we honor his memory on this occasion and in this chapel, and the Aims of Education Addresses are now published by the college in Hutchins's honor thanks to generous guests from alumni who celebrate his role in shaping our ideals.I should also mention that a central feature of this particular ritual is that the Aimsspeaker is given absolutely no instructions or substantive guidance from the dean of the college or anyone else other than informing her him of the time and place at which this lecture is to be held. To be invited to deliver the annual Aims Address is a considerable honor, but also a daunting challenge, and it's no accident that most if not all of our Aims speakers have been colleagues, not only esteemed as formal scholars, but also as brilliant teachers.Our speaker this evening is Melissa Gilliam, the Ellen H. Block Professor of HealthJustice in the departments of obstetrics and gynecology and pediatrics, and ViceProvost for Academic Leadership and Advancement and Diversity at the University of Chicago. Educated first at Yale in Oxford, where she studied English philosophy and politics, and then at Harvard where she took her M.D. Degree in 1993, ProfessorGilliam joined the University of Chicago faculty in 2005.She is a distinguished scholar and practitioner who has innovated research in the area of sexual health, focuses on contraception, family planning, care for children, teens, and young women. She has creatively blended her clinical and research expertise with youth education as the founder of the Center for InterdisciplinaryInquiry and Innovation in Sexual and Reproductive Health, colloquially known as Ci3.The center has exemplified the interdisciplinary quality of our faculty culture by bringing together scholars from varied disciplines to explore and improve issues of sexual and reproductive health and rights at the local, national, and global levels.Professor Gilliam's team in particular has created ways to support and educate at-risk teens through the use of storytelling and game design, which allow participants to discuss and gain insights into their sexual health. As [INAUDIBLE] since 2016, Professor Gilliam has sponsored initiatives to support faculty in all stages of their careers and is overseeing the campus-wide initiative on diversity and inclusion launched in 2017. Through this latter role, she has strengthened a range of services and offices across our campus, including the Center for Identity and Inclusion, theCenter for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, and the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality and she has promoted the full participation of every member of our community in the rich academic and student life of the college and the university.Melissa Gilliam is not only a very talented and innovative physician, scholar, and institutional leader, but a superb teacher and mentor who has inspired many medical students. Students have given her superlative ratings as an attending physician with accolades like, it was awesome. It was awesome to watch Dr. Gilliaminteract with her patients. She is an inspiration to me regarding how I would like to be with my patients. Another student commented, what a great role model. She has provided great teaching on clinical topics, as well as the unique challenges associated with working in a pediatric clinic.Great teaching lies at the heart of the central purpose of our university, and the efforts of our faculty over the past century to define this great university's teaching traditions were often complex because they not only involve structural formalities but because they also were infused with a strong sense of pride and a profound sense that our work as educators would have a dramatic impact on the resilience of the fundamental values that define the university.Many years ago, a past Aims of Education lecturer and distinguished humanist, Professor Jacques Weintraub argued that teaching was not simply a way of valorizing the university's institutional mission, but also a confession of the power of the university in constituting the kind of world that we want to bequeath to young people who come after us.Jacques said, a teacher finds his satisfaction simply in raising consciousness by one little notch. He may make all the difference between mediocrity and excellence.The quality of a culture depends ultimately on this long and sustained cultivation of sensitivities of refined taste and of sound judgment. There is no cheap, easy way to culture. Much of the true cultural labor is not readily visible, but in this invisible labor lies the great contribution the university makes to all that is visible to the larger public.The occasion of teaching indeed has come to define the highest and the best nature of this institution, and thus it is a great pleasure and a high honor for me to introduce my distinguished colleague and friend, MelissaGilliam, who will deliver the 2020 address on the Aims of Education Melissa.

MELISSAGILLIAM: class since 1961. While much of the magic of this lecture is in the repetition of the ceremony and venue, magic also comes from the format in which a new sneaker reimagines the same overall theme year after year.Unlike in 1961, there is an internet, and I used it to search for images of 1961. The fashion in those times look like a scene from Mad Men. Queen Elizabeth the second was 35, and John F. Kennedy was ceremoniously inaugurated as president before unceremoniously ordering the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Computers were large and slow, televisions were black and white, and the Berlin Wall was being set in place.In 1961, the prison population reached an all-time high of 220,149. An 18-year-oldCharlayne Hunter attempted under federal order to attend the University of Georgia, where she was withdrawn for her own safety as fellow students threatened her with violence. Rockefeller Memorial Chapel would have been full but not crowded for this talk and the student body would have been more homogeneous.I imagine that much like you, there would have been a sense of anguish.Sometimes, a sense of despair, but also of hope. This year is perhaps unlike any other since 1961. Basketball is being played in a biodome and Naomi Osaka just became the women's single tennis champion at the US open, but there were no fans to cheer her on.In 1961, we were not talking about climate change, and yet now fires blaze out of control in the west while southern states are bracing for another hurricane. Across the world, people are immigrating, leaving their homes which have become intolerable due to the climate, poverty, or violence. Even a year ago, we had not heard of COVID-19, and today, over 930,000 people in the world have died with over195,000 of these deaths in the United States alone.The population of the United States has nearly doubled and the prison population has risen over 10-fold to 2.3 million individuals, and in what is being called the second civil rights movement, people of all backgrounds are taking to the streets to march for the honor, the lives, and rights of black people and trans people of color.Names such as Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and now DanielPrude for so many of us have become household names due to the senselessness of their deaths.Yet just as in 1961, some wished to maintain the status quo. What are the emotions you have felt? Urgency? Anger? Frustration? Numbness? Anxiety? Boredom?Sadness? Fear? Maybe some guilt? I know that the pandemic and all of these other issues have affected your lives in one way, shape, or form. But as with other crises,there will be opportunities, and I hope you see that you have the opportunity to contribute to new thinking and new ways of being.What is the aim of a liberal education at this moment when once again, we are being called to ask about our relationship to ourselves, to one another, and to the world around us? Our contemporary struggles have deep historical roots. We are asking questions such as, whose land do we live on? Can this land sustain us? Whose labor sustains us, and how is that labor valued? Whose lives are valued? Who gets to live with dignity? These questions are profound and we have seen that when they remain inadequately answered, they have grave consequences.As a clinician and a scholar, I focus on young people around your age. I ask what is needed to help young people emerge into a healthy adulthood with a sense of agency. This work takes me to the south side of Chicago and to India. After many years of studying what has been called, by some, risky teen behaviors, I realized that a better way to contextualize this issue was to emphasize the potential for positive youth development.That began a 10-year collaboration with my colleague to use game design as a supportive space for exploration, skill building safe failure, and promoting assets.And one of the most important of these assets is education. But note I said education in a positive environment. So for just a few minutes, I'm going to ask you to come into Rockefeller Chapel with me and leave the outside world behind.Actually, I don't mean really leave issues of the world behind, as our time together, I hope, will ultimately be about how we prepare to engage with worldly issues. Even ifwe are not talking specifically about each of them at the moment with new insights and energy.But now, I want to talk about love. Now, I imagine you just did the double-take or eye roll, thinking she is not going to talk about this really or maybe turned up the volume thinking, hey, she studies reproductive health, so this might be interesting.No. I'm talking about something more radical, something more transformative. The love that people like John Lewis, the congressman, or Martin Luther King have expressed.So I want you to consider education as an act of self-love. What are you doing right now? What you are doing-- committing to education in the middle of a pandemic--that is a definition of education as self-love. Think about what it means to step out of the day-to-day and enter into a place that will focus on education. When theUniversity of Chicago was founded, it was created as a place of learning with Gothicbuildings reminiscent of Oxford university, with the intention of combining an English-style undergraduate experience with a German-style graduate research experience.The founders were able to recruit senior, serious scholars from the very beginning because of the promise of a serious intellectual life, and undergraduates were promised respite to devote themselves to that intellectual life. But as you know, universities have not always been accessible to all people. I told you about Charlaine Hunter in 1961 being harassed as she integrated her university, but in contrast, the University of Chicago was founded to be open to all people, regardless of their background.In 1907-- 1907-- Georgiana Simpson enrolled at the University of Chicago and received her BA in 1911, and in 1921, she became the first black woman in theUnited States to receive a PhD, also from the University of Chicago. But let's look at the story a bit closely. She was not allowed to stay in the dormitory because of her skin color, and I imagine at times, she was pretty lonely. So this story is often told tobe a story about the openness of the University of Chicago, but to me, it is first and foremost a story about Georgiana Simpson and a love of learning that led her to travel halfway across the country, often in overtly hostile circumstances, to studyGerman.So studying, even when people tell you that you do not belong, is an act of self-love.Now, despite all that each of you has achieved, I bet there is nobody who is harder on yourself than you. I wonder if somewhere deep inside, you still believe you are not good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not funny enough. The issue is that in a world where people use our differences to disempower us, racism,sexism, religious intolerance, ageism, classism, homophobia, anti-immigrant sentiment. I could go on, of course, but these instances of interpersonal violence may cause us to question ourselves and ask ourselves whether we belong in settings that do not feel familiar to us.What we do is we use the cues around us to tell us whether a situation is safe or not.We often are not that interested in doing things that scare us. So let me tell you about a study. This was conducted by Sapna Cheryan, and in this study, she hypothesized that people make decisions based on their physical environments. Simply changing, randomizing people to having different objects in a computer science classroom from those considered stereotypical of computer science individuals-- Star Trek posters, videogames, versus having images and objects not considered stereotypical of computer science people. So in that case, it might be nature posters or phone books. That difference was sufficient to boost female undergraduates' interest in computer science to the level of their male peers.In a non-experimental study, Stout and Wright showed that LGBT-identified students were more likely to leave computer science majors due to a sense of not belonging.So now, you may think this type of thinking is irrelevant to you. Perhaps you were thinking,I'm a cisgender, heterosexual, medium height, athletic, or perhaps you feel that these types of statements are putting you on the spot, but that's not my intention.These are human behaviors and human stories, and I think each of us can identify characteristics we would like to change in times when our surroundings make us feel uncomfortable.But here's the irony-- the point of education is to be different and to stand out. So much of high school is conforming to structures imposed upon you by others-- the same set of classes, the same set of achievement tests, and the same advanced placement exams. But in your college essays, we didn't ask you about how similar you were to everyone else. We did not even make you take college entrance exams.We asked you to tell us what makes you unique. You had to answer those very unusual questions so you could tell us how you and only you think.So you should love the ways that you perceive you do not fit in, and focus on how you see the world differently. It is our differences often identifiable to ourselves, let alone others, that animate knowledge and academic inquiry. You are no longer proving yourself to your parents, your family, and neighbors, but instead are exploring a wide range of topics, ultimately accountable only to yourself. It is through the things that make us stand out and the brave and uncomfortable efforts we make that we are often rewarded and perpetuate change.So I encourage you to love yourself not despite being different, but because you are different. So here's an interesting footnote. In 2017, undergraduate students AsyaAkca and Shae Omonijo co-founded the monumental women's project and honored Georgian Simpson by commissioning a bust of her that now stands in the ReynoldsClub. As I've described to you, research shows that physical images can create a sense of belonging.So I want to move out to the social level and to talk about how hard it is for us to love one another. Romantic and physical love are important components, but a different discussion for different time. Here, I want to talk about the importance of loving one another, and in particular loving engaging with others' ideas, topics, and thoughts, even when they are difficult than those we have been exposed to before.The most supreme level is meeting with kindness ideas that are scary and people when their actions are unkind, but let's start at the beginning.What an amazing thing-- you are part of a university class of over 1,700 other people around your same age from all over the world. In the past decade, the diversity of our undergraduate population has increased dramatically. Our students include veterans, people from countries around the globe, people from right down the street, some who are the first in their family to go to college, others who have longstanding college traditions.We also have a diverse faculty and staff and one of the most wonderful communities surrounding our campus. The University of Chicago is a true university, meaning we value humanities, social sciences, the arts, and the basic sciences. We have no particular view on which scholarship matters. Finally, we want you to be students of the whole institution. But guess what? Despite all of this opportunity, people actually tend towards homophily, meaning they are inclined to like people who are similar to them and ideas they agree with, thus we may not take the risk of studying things that do not come easily to us or engaging with those who are different than us.Even though each of us is complex and miraculous and holds multiple identities, we often define ourselves by that identity that is most stigmatized in the current context. In 2004, an investigator named Mary Murphy hypothesized that one reason for the lack of women in STEM fields is that they were more likely to lose confidence, have low self-esteem, and engage in negative thinking with respect toSTEM topics. To test this hypothesis, she recruited female and male identified Stanford undergraduates to look at an advertising video for a math, science, and engineering summer leadership conference.The researchers created two videos. In one video, the audience at the conference was gender unbalanced, with 3 to 1 male female ratio. In the other video, the audience at the conference was gender-balanced. Watching the video that was unbalanced, female math, science, and engineering students had a very negative reaction. They reported less belonging, had faster heart rates, and had greater skin conductance. And this meant that they were nervous and distracted compared to when they were watching the video that was gender-balanced. Not surprisingly,after watching the gender imbalanced video, they were less likely to want to attend the conference.So think about times when the people who are present make you feel less likely to join in. Now, you may believe that you would have been in a welcoming environment, and the individuals who were disinclined to attend felt alienated without reason. But let me tell you about a field experiment. This was conducted by Katy Milkman.In her study, over 6,500 professors at top US universities from 89 disciplines and259 institutions received an email from a fictional student wanting to discuss research opportunities before applying to doctoral programs. Each received thesame simple email content, but each was also randomly assigned to receive nameson their letter that sent a signal about gender or different racial-ethnic groups.When the requests were to meet in one week, names that signaled white maleswere granted access to faculty members 26% more often names that signaled other groups-- Black, Latinx, east Asian, Indian, and all-female names. Also, compared with women and people of color, white males received more and faster responses regardless of the identity of the faculty member. Our brain forms patterns, and these patterns discriminate.So I've given examples mainly about gender and race, but the point is we hold many identities and each of us has contexts where we feel at ease and others where we are uncomfortable. Taken together, these two studies suggest that despite the smorgasbord of academic offerings and amazing diversity of people,due to a variety of social cues, and beliefs you may not take full advantage of classes and individuals who are central to university life.Reject the notions of get tough, this is all in your head, or I don't see color, I treat everyone the same-- we all identify differences. But the key is not to fear others because they are different, but to seek them out because they are different. Think twice about who you are ignoring, shaming, or leaving out, because the pain you inflict is far greater and longer-lasting than you might imagine. Identify opportunities to lift others up, and if you can, try to forgive others even when their actions feel rude or unkind. This love may not always be available to you, but perhaps each of us can aspire.OK, now, full of self love and love for your new friends, ready to take amazing classes, you still must ask the question-- how does love come in as we engage in the world? How do we, as we leave Rockefeller Chapel, return to the world and use what we have learned and experienced to make this world, the place we want and deserve?While a student, you will have time to engage in the world. The University of Chicago is an increasingly engaged university. There are many ways to illustrate this point, but for the sake of this conversation, I will point to the Office of civic engagement, the Global Centers, the Institute of Politics, the Smart Museum, the thePaloschi Center, the Logan Center, the Court Theater-- these are some of the many entities that will let you explore how a University of Chicago education can intersect with the world.In your enthusiasm, however, I have one word of caution-- engagement is not only about your own energy and desire for change, it is about your ability to actively listen and work with others. My own research can help illustrate the point and the possible. I started my career as a teen pregnancy researcher and was trained in a variety of biomedical solutions. When I spent time asking teenagers about what they wanted for themselves, they actually expressed great skepticism about these solutions. They didn't want contraceptive injections that lasted for three months or arm implants that lasted for years.Why was there such a disconnect between the solutions being offered and the value accorded to those solutions by the end user? Well, the solutions were beingdeveloped in the halls of academia by people who were well past 13 years, and nobody was really asking teenagers what they wanted and needed. So I became interested in something called reproductive justice, which states that in order for individuals to have the resources they need for the well-being of themselves and their children, the people who are most affected must be engaged in the solutions.But not only is inclusion the just thing to do, the world is actually better when we include rather than disenfranchise people. Now, various data supports this view,including a study by my friend, an economist, named Lisa Cooke. One theory in economics is that economic growth occurs with investment in capital or labor, but eventually, limits will be reached. Others realized innovation and the vigorous use of patents was a third component and could lead to tremendous economic growth.Well, Cooke asked, what if inequality and violence limited innovation and economic growth? Meaning if systems are inequitable and unfair, people are repressed and do not contribute to innovation and economic growth. And so to test this, she decided to look at the number of patents to black inventors from 1871 to 1940.It took her almost a decade to create this data set, but what she found was that at times of freedom and increased rights, patents by black inventors flourished. But at times of anti-black violence, like the 1921 Tulsa massacre, recently dramatized inthe series Watchman, there were many fewer patents. And the story is absolutely fascinating, but the bottom line is that the United States lost at a more than 1,100inventions from black inventors. Systematic exclusion of minority voices hurts everyone.My point is, just as I've asked you to show more love and care to yourself and respect the ways that you are different to show love and care to your peers and respect them for their differences, I ask you to do the same for all people. And not think because you have the privilege of education that somehow you matter more or your viewpoint is correct.This morning I've taken you through what is called a socioecologic model. The individual level, the social level, the systems level-- and by systems, we mean things like policies, laws, physical structures. The challenge is that systems are created by people, and systems institutionalize the best and worst of us. I can name many situations here and around the world in which we have institutionalized fear and hatred, resulting in inequality. The patterns of death due to COVID-19 illustrates my point.When this talk began, I described what the world looked like in 1961, and while I touched on some of the notable differences between our times, I also had to reflecton some of the dismaying similarities. It is the potential to see a path forward that isthe hope of education.So start with loving yourself, because the pain, fear, and uncertainty of the task ahead of us is quite daunting. Don't beat yourself up or speak to yourself with negative words, because you are here to learn, regardless of what the world may sometimes tell you. Being you is your gift, and that is why we are so pleased you chose to join the University of Chicago. Find the things you love, in which you are interested in, and try not to let feelings of belonging hold you back.If you ever doubt your value or your magnificence, take a biology class so you can see the wonder of the human body. But also think about how you can continually and actively show kindness and regard towards others. These next four years are one of the most important times to meet people who are different than you--faculty, staff, the local community, and other students. When you are someplace where you feel right at home, make others feel the same.And constantly be thinking how you can use this experience to engage with the world in a way that is humble and effective, receptive, and energetic, so that we can collectively find a way forward to a world that is more just. Where we live in better balance for the planet, and its abundance, and we are focused more on helping than harming one another. That seems to me an Aim of Education of which we would all be proud.

JOHN W.BOYER: I'd like to thank my colleague Melissa Gilliam for her insightful and highlyilluminating remarks. It's now our custom that we divide to the individual houses inour residential system and to continue our discussions about the aims of liberaleducation, and I hope that you enjoy these discussions that will be led by colleaguesand staff from across the university.Let me wish you all well in this very trying but also very stimulating time. I have anextraordinary confidence in your ability to succeed, and we wish you a very safe andstimulating academic year. Thank you very much.