FAHE gathered for its 40th conference at Pendle Hill and Swarthmore College to explore our theme for this year, “Truth and Inspiration.” In the many stories we heard, speakers spoke of the necessity of courage and risk taking being needed to speak truth to power. In a world of contingent truth, fake news and outright deception seeking truth is not enough. Acting on truth to transform our world is required. We heard many stories of Friends having the courage to act on truth.
The opening plenary address “Looking Inward with Courage: Quaker Organizations Parading Peace & Justice” was presented on Thursday evening, June 13, 2019, at Pendle Hill by Joyce Aljouny, Executive Secretary of the American Friends Service Committee, headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. She began by noting that we advocate for Peace & Justice in our literature, we highlight them in our courses, and center on them in our service work and programming. Then she challenged us with the questions about how courageous should we be when demonstrating peace and justice practices, policies and principles within our Quaker organizations. These questions can be applied not only in our service organizations but also throughout the Quaker world in our faith communities as well as our schools and colleges. As a Palestinian-American she had many moving stories to share from family life, a career as an educator, and most recently in her work with the AFSC. Truth telling and risk taking require courage, openness to taking bold risks. But not taking action has risks, too, and so we need to support each other in creating environments that allow us to be in the sometimes uncomfortable role of truth telling in our communities. Truth requires courage.
The leadership panel of Quaker leaders explored the challenges of institutions to be truthful and courageous. Colleges are concerned about how they are perceived by others, sustainability, continuity, and stasis. These make following the truth difficult and the leaders spoke of the challenges they face in following the truth in the decisions and actions they take.
Friday night’s plenary address “I Must Always Walk in the Light” was presented by Maurice Eldridge at Swarthmore College. Eldridge, former Vice President at Swarthmore College, shared of his life experiences and career, beginning with his early childhood, and ending with projects he continues to be involved with. He spoke of his white neighbor telling him as a young child that “his dark skin was beautiful, and not to let anyone tell him differently.” He shared the importance of education in his family’s life, that “education was a gateway to a successful life.” He also learned the power of vulnerability, and being available and accessible to his students, that he could be a better educator by being true to being a model for them. While he was first exposed to the Religious Society of Friends in high school, and is an alum of Swarthmore College, it was after the death of his first wife that he sought worship with Friends, and found a supportive spiritual space (and also met his current wife). He spoke of the power of being silent together. Through his stories, it was clear that being true to himself, being a model for others, and uplifting various kinds of education, are at the center of his being. We are grateful for his vulnerability in sharing his incredible story
In our third plenary Frances Blase, Provost at Haverford College shared Haverford’s struggle with Academic Freedom and its discernment whether to accept or decline grants from the U.S. Department of Defense. In academia, freedom is necessary for finding truth. It is highly protected in colleges and universities. Haverford has had to grapple with their limits to academic freedom, when that freedom might conflict with a core value of a Quaker institution such as its stance of not supporting the military.
Our final plenary was brought forward by Jon Watts, who told the origin of QuakerSpeak, a Friends Journal project, and a Quaker YouTube channel. Watts weaved examples from the past five years into his story. He answered questions around theological diversity through showing videos, and we are excited to see what the next five years might bring forward.
In 24 presentations during concurrent sessions we learned from each other as we explored truth and inspiration in different contexts. Topics explored seeking truth and inspiration in a wide range of areas of concern to Friends and spoke to complexity of our theme of truth and inspiration.
We expressed deep gratitude for John Kershner and Paul Anderson’s service on FAHE Executive Committee. Appreciation for the Program Committee, and our hosts (Pendle Hill and Swarthmore College) making the conference a great one was expressed.
We were challenged to bring acting in truth through our living testimony home to our institutions. We look forward to meeting for our next conference at Earlham College and Earlham School of Religion in June 2020.
Friends Association for Higher Education