Starting with an all-campus picnic in August, we have asked our community to send comments on the question, “What makes Grinnell distinctive?” The responses to date are available on the strategic planning website. The responses, starting with the annual all-campus picnic and continuing since, are characterized by the way in which respondents call on their personal memories, perceptions, and recommendations. Even the word “distinctive” is interpreted in a highly personal way. One impression of the word results in observations about what makes Grinnell peculiar, including a reference to the train that runs through campus, the Burling Library study cubes (and bathrooms?), pancakes at study break, and the party that occurs annually on or about October 10th (a student payday). These remarks on our peculiarity, or quirkiness, are made with some affection. Nevertheless, as a psychology professor, I choose to classify the response “Psychology profs” under a different category. This second category includes remarks concerning what virtues serve to identify Grinnell College or make it special. In this category of remarks are “freedom to develop individuality”, “loving, open, and accepting students”, an open curriculum, “the best faculty” (insert Psychology profs here), self-governance, and “we support our community so that passion can translate into action.” These remarks are also affectionate and offer some insight into the signature identity of our place. The third impression of “distinctive” interprets the word in the future tense, including comments pointing toward a distinctiveness that is “more organized and more focused on student needs”, student creativity and scholarship, more emphasis on the arts, more collaboration between community members, and more occasions for student ownership and empowerment. It is significant that the theme of these comments is student-centered. On campus, where a distinctiveness “working group” is engaged in answering the Grinnell distinctiveness question, the conversations are running parallel to these comments, including the open community, the open curriculum, and the stellar quality of the students. It remains to be seen how the challenge of articulating our distinctiveness is met. Ideas about distinctiveness have been very personal, and the personal is hard to aggregate. Perhaps a fresh supply of comments, sent via http://www.grinnell.edu/future will provide additional scaffolding for our task.
– David Lopatto (email@example.com)