Friday, May 18, 2012 - 11:08am

The dean of an arts and sciences college of the size and dimensions of the Franklin College really has his or her hands full. Outside of the extraordinary administrative duties of the position and alongside the constant fundraising responsibilities and appearances, the dean is our ambassador and spokesperson; introducing speakers and addressing graduates with an eloquent and memorable message could itself be a full-time occupation. Interim dean Hugh Ruppersburg has proven adept at all of the above duties, but he has truly excelled in this latter one. Here are his introductory remarks for the 18th Andrea Coley Lecture on April 6:

On behalf of the Franklin College and the University I welcome you to the 18th Andrea Carson Coley lecture. This is always an important event on the spring semester calendar for Women’s Studies. In memory and honor of Andrea Coley, a young woman who came out as a lesbian and suffered hostility and non-acceptance that led to her suicide, the Coley lecture seeks to foster understanding and acceptance of people who are different. It speaks for the spirit and practice of fairness, tolerance, appreciation and equity for all people. This year in particular seems particularly relevant. The current political campaign, as surly and uncivil as I can ever recall a campaign having been, has focused unfortunately on a very narrow and singular definition of what it means to be an American, of what it means to be human. Those who don’t fit that definition are regarded by some as suspect, second-rate, undeserving of full status as human beings. Not only do we witness attacks on gays, lesbians, transgendered, and others who are different. We are also witnessing attacks on women in general, on the fundamental concept of difference and self-empowerment. We recently heard a young woman lambasted on a national radio program for the mere fact of her testimony before Congress. And we have seen in Florida how a teenage boy with dark skin, who behaved and dressed in what one observer interpreted as a suspicious manner, ended up dead on the lawn of a small-town neighborhood. These are extremist attacks, extremist acts, extremist views, you might say, but the current political climate demonstrates all too well how fast extremes can become the middle ground. In this environment, where the gains of the last fifty years are cast into doubt and sometimes even scorn, the importance of programs that highlight, study, teach, and promote issues of gender, race, and difference becomes all the more clear.

I am so pleased to see everyone at this important event today. Thank you to the staff, students, and faculty of Women’s Studies for all that you do. Since the Institute was established 35 years ago, more than 10,000 students have completed Women’s Studies courses. These students – and thousands of others who experience a first-class liberal arts and sciences education – are equipped to enter the public discourse with tolerance and generosity: the wisdom, justice, and moderation that are the pillars of the UGA Arch. Thank you to Kathy and Andrew Coley for endowing this event in honor of their daughter. I cannot imagine a more powerful legacy for Andrea, than fostering those crucial values for our students, faculty, and community. And thank you in advance to my friend and colleague, Tricia Lootens, for the talk she is giving today. As a teacher, scholar, and citizen, she has had a tremendous and beneficial impact on her department, this institute, and the University. I look forward to her remarks. Thank you.

Dean Ruppersburg has continually acquitted the College with a dignity and grace for which we are all grateful. The annual Coley Lecture is a great event that enlists stimulating discourse from an engaged scholar to keep memories alive as well as to encourage openness and enlightenment in our society. Of the many roles our College fulfills as part of an institution of higher learning, I can't think of a more important one than that.