Northwestern College is, what we call, a ‘liberal arts college.’ This means that Northwestern educates students in the ‘liberal arts’. What does it mean for a college to teach the ‘liberal arts?’ Despite the name, it really has nothing to do with painting or the mystical practices of progressivism.
The liberal arts originated in Roman antiquity as Artes Liberales, referring to the subjects which were worthy of a free person, a free person being someone who could participate in society. These subjects would later be confined to the seven liberal arts of medieval Europe: grammar, rhetoric and logic making up the ‘trivium’— music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy making up the ‘quadrivium’. These two branches, trivium and quadrivium, formed the basis for the whole tradition of western higher education, though we know them today as the humanities and the sciences. With the rise of universities in medieval Europe, the liberal arts stood as the guides for these places of study, instructing the studious and the wealthy in their version of class requirements.
Today the liberal arts are made up of natural sciences, social sciences, the arts and the humanities. Although it looks quite different, the point of collecting these disciplines into one academic experience is similar to the purpose of the liberal arts in medieval times, namely, to provide a student with a well-rounded understanding of the world. We should strive for well-roundedness in our pursuit to love others.
It is easier to love someone if you know their story. It is easier to empathize if you know their context. While it is impossible to learn the story of every human on earth, you have before you an opportunity to learn as much as you can about the world outside of yourself. The liberal arts college, as opposed to a technical or vocational school, is intentionally different for the purpose of experiencing new things. The goal here should be to not only prepare yourself for your particular career, but to also try out other disciplines, to push your comfort zone and to learn what it is like to live and understand things in a different way.
It should go without saying that this mindset of learning, of trying new things, should apply to your life outside of academics as well as in the classroom. Sign up for events, engage with the humanity around you and celebrate the opportunity to be in such proximity to mindsets and worldviews different from your own. There can be a tendency on campus for people to want to stay in their established zones, almost going out of their way to avoid trying new things. This can be seen in people who do not care about elective classes, events outside of their interests or people outside of their friend group. I encourage you to explore classes outside of your major, to go to plays and sports games, to talk to people you might not otherwise talk to. Diversity is not passive; it requires you to actively seek out people who have lived different experiences than you. College is a place where you have more opportunities to do that.
This is not an advertisement for Northwestern College, or an endorsement of the liberal arts system; I do not need to advertise something you are already paying for. This is, rather, a call to utilize what you already have. You are already here; the people and experiences are already around you, so go and live them.