We are in the air Saturday evening beginning the 15 hour flight from Delhi to Newark with memories of an extraordinary week. The students and faculty of Lady Shri Ram College provided abundant hospitality throughout the week. They offered a provocative study of the life and work of Gandhi and consideration of the place of Gandhi in our society today. Our study explored Gandhi from the perspectives of politics, economics, peace and conflict transformation, sociology, and the media.
Our work in the classroom was complimented by energetic interaction between the students of LSR and OWU. These interactions included the opening tour on Sunday; three sessions of community service; dance workshops offered by OWU Dance Professor Marin Leggett; numerous meals together; informal conversations about all sorts of issues relating to our cultures and the larger global context; and finally a tour of Gandhi-related sites in Delhi Saturday. The tour included places of worship from various faith traditions frequented by Gandhi, the house where Gandhi often stayed during his visits to Delhi, and the site of his assassination on January 30, 1948.
Interaction between students of the two institutions continued into the wee hours of each night with Facebook posts and extended conversations online continuing the engaging discussions of the day or preparing for joint presentations the following day. A treat on the final afternoon was a dance presentation by students of the two schools, under the direction of Marin Leggett. Principal Gopinath, the leader of LSR and herself an LSR alumna from the class of 1970, was so moved by the presentation that she asked for the opening music to be played again so that she could honor the work of the week and the visit by Ohio Wesleyan to LSR. She stepped on stage and presented a beautiful extemporaneous dance that brought students from both schools to their feet in a roaring ovation.
Lady Shri Ram College, widely noted as the top liberal arts college in India, is interested in an ongoing relationship with Ohio Wesleyan. During the week, we discussed the possibility of student exchanges, faculty exchanges, joint faculty development, occasional short courses offered on each campus for students from both campuses, and other ways in which we can share our talents and resources.
As I return from my first trip to India, I am struck by many things: the rich and diverse culture; the pride of the people of India; the complexity of a society that remains deeply divided economically and socially with both great prosperity and widespread poverty; the places where the boundaries of social class are bridged, such as in the bright colors of saris, tunics, and other apparel worn by women of every social class; the paradox of an ancient culture in a historic nation with a government and Constitution that were formed barely half a century ago; and the tensions between tradition and modernity that are leading to enormous social change.
Oh yes, and then there is the frenetic bombardments of all of the senses, represented most dramatically in the streets of India. There one encounters people sitting in the street; pedestrians walking in every direction; very old two-wheeled bullock carts being pulled by donkeys, mules, horses, oxen, bulls, camels, and men; rickshaws, both motorized and the old pedaled types; mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles; automobiles; tour vans and busses; and more. The lines marking lanes and the lights directing traffic are, at best, suggestions. It is a fascinating country that leaves much for contemplation and offers much opportunity for collaboration in higher education, as well as for the corporate and non-profit sectors.
India and the United States are the two largest democracies in the world today. India is enjoying dramatic economic growth. The country has bold ambitions for increasing opportunity for higher education. Colleges and universities in India are eager to partner with institutions in the United States. My visits to the United States-India Educational Foundation offices in Mumbai and Delhi confirmed that many families in India want to send their sons and daughters to the United States for college. All in all, there is enormous opportunity for Ohio Wesleyan in India.
Finally, a word about our students. This is my first time as President to have the opportunity to immerse myself fully in the student experience for a week, – living, studying, and interacting with a group of OWU students in an intensive experience. Each student brought a unique perspective to our conversations and to our life together. I was moved by their passion for learning, their curiosity about people and cultures different from their own, their insightful reflections about all they saw, their care for one another and others around them, and their desire to serve. With students like these, and with the commitments they bring to all they do at OWU, one can see the coming fulfillment of our vision to prepare the next generation of moral leaders for a global society.