What does the phrase “democratic community” mean to you?
I think that a democratic community is a community that is intentional in its efforts to hear and respect as many voices as possible. I think it gives us the direction to always seek input, and, ultimately that decisions made on that input need to be revisited on a regular basis. Being a democratic community means we’re seeking that identity or that understanding from all, that the voices of all members of the community are vital, whether they be staff, faculty or students. You’re never going to get everyone fully involved, but there has to be a continuing effort to get folks involved, and I see the college doing that. I’ve seen it now with three different presidential administrations. They each might look slightly different, but I really see a consistent, long-term effort by this community.
How do you interpret the Commitment to encourage “plain living”?
What is “plain living”? It’s really hard to define. But you can talk about sustainability in very measurable terms of efficiency; you can talk about it in terms of technology. It’s not necessarily plain living, but it can drive us to a point where we’re using fewer resources to get the same outcome. In my personal life, I like to think that plain living means being very mindful of consumption and very thoughtful about the things I choose to consume. It’s a constant challenge. Similar to the ideal of democratic community, you need to be thoughtful about what you’re doing. You look at Deep Green and don’t necessarily think plain living, but you certainly think sustainable. There are truly beautiful amenities in Deep Green, an aesthetic that you don’t necessarily associate with simplicity. When I think of a dorm in relation to plain living, I think of Bingham. But Deep Green is probably much more efficient than Bingham, and it probably costs less to operate, even though it’s beautiful. Ultimately, the outcomes of sustainability are centered around efficiency, whereas “plain living” encourages us to have more of a focus on the internal things that are important rather than the external material things.
Berea’s Great Commitments are all interrelated. Describe how you see the Commitment to encourage “plain living” as connected to the Commitment to live in a “democratic community.” Do these Commitments complement each other?
Frankly, I think that they’re only as connected as we are willing to make them connected. First of all, we have to be committed to those two as separate concepts. Being in a democratic community fits well with plain living because you’re always considering the needs of the community. When you’re talking about plain living and trying to figure out what that means, living in a democratic community means that everyone is bringing something to the table. Some of us bring lots of lived experience, some bring cold, hard research-related data, and some bring an intense personal emotional response to it, and we need to listen to all of those. I think that they absolutely complement each other in that one describes a process and the other describes the end goal of what we’re trying to get to. If we use the democratic ideals to get to plain living then at least we’re going to head in the right direction. It may not be perfect; there will probably be people who are unhappy with it, but that’s okay. We’ve embraced this ideal and this is how we’re living it out.
The “plain living” Commitment has sometimes been called the “kitchen sink” Commitment because it has so many components. Are there aspects, other than “plain living” that resonate with you? Why?
The one that really resonates with me is maintaining a residential campus. I consistently draw from my experience of having lived on campus. It’s not just about that dorm experience. It was in many ways a complete community. I think that it’s a vital part of the Berea College experience.