A Culture of Inquiry
It’s no secret that Pepperdine students strive daily to demonstrate the fundamental values of purpose, service, and leadership in everything that we do
By Austin Welch
Seaver College Senior
President, Student Government Association
President, Delta Sigma Pi
Chair, Pepperdine College Republicans
It’s no secret that Pepperdine students strive daily to demonstrate the fundamental values of purpose, service, and leadership in everything we do. These qualities bleed into our collective consciousness and inform the conversations that bring us together to address the issues facing our communities and our world. These conversations push us to welcome diverse viewpoints and disagree respectfully with our peers without judging the character, integrity, or humanity of the person on the other side of the debate.
As president of the Student Government Association (SGA), I encourage my peers to feel uncomfortable in these moments—in the sense that their beliefs and values will be challenged and questioned—and facilitate conversations where we can engage in respectful dialogue around difficult issues, whether political, religious, or ethical. What sets Pepperdine apart is a commitment to giving students opportunities to come together and allow each side to understand and learn why they hold their respective beliefs. I am most proud of the collective voice that chooses to discuss and unpack challenging concepts. That collective voice was asking for more, and it became my personal duty and the duty of the SGA to make that desire a reality.
One of my priorities during my time as president was to increase the number of registered student voters in the months leading up to the 2016 presidential election. SGA provided opportunities for students to register to vote, handed out free pocket copies of the US Constitution and signed students up for free online subscriptions to the New York Times funded by the SGA for every student, staff, and faculty member. With a multifaceted approach to critical engagement, we were able to register more than 300 student voters and assist them with redirecting their mail-in ballots to their Pepperdine mailboxes. SGA’s intention was to foster a culture of political engagement on campus and an understanding of what is going on outside of the “Malibu bubble.”
Through strategic SGA programming, necessary conversations such as those that explore civil politics, cultural competency, LGBTQ issues, and faith, have uncovered our student body’s underlying desire for deep inquiry into topics that many would consider controversial or divisive. Little can be done to change the reality of disagreement. However, what is possible—and what we strive to do—is to allow both sides of a conversation to come together and share why they hold certain beliefs. While uncomfortable at first, this model allows for respect and convicted civility—conduct that President Benton so affectionately encourages of all members of the Pepperdine community.
Pepperdine students have found this model to be effective and fulfilling and are able to walk away from spirited discussions and share a meal together immediately after. These topics and the ways in which we explore them do not define who we are as people. They are merely one aspect of a very complex group of individuals who can look beyond party lines and faith backgrounds. They enhance those common bonds that unite us all as students at the college on the hill in beautiful Malibu, California.
If we the students of Pepperdine are able to walk across the stage at Alumni Park on graduation day and lead lives that continue to model convicted and considerate discourse with one another, we will be the ripple in the ocean that ignites a wave of compromise and collaboration throughout the world.