Chapter 6: Respectfulness and Community: Preserving Legacy in a Modern Era

by Bryon Grigsby, Ph.D.

Posted on January 06, 2023

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Moravian University’s 1742 founding places it as the sixth-oldest college in our nation. The Moravian Bishop John Amos Comenius, the Father of Modern Education, more than a century earlier inspired the school’s establishment: “Not the children of the rich or of the powerful only, but of all alike, boys and girls, both noble and ignoble, rich and poor, in all cities and towns, villages and hamlets, should be sent to school.” The Moravians sought a more equitable and just world. They, therefore, believed that one would never have an educated society without first educating women because the women are the first educators of the children. In April of 1742, Countess Benigna von Zinzendorf, with financial support from her stepmother, Anna Nitschmann, led 24 young girls on an educational journey that became the first residential school for women in North America, a journey that now has nearly a 300- year history. The Moravians then established the men’s school six months later. The two institutions existed separately until 1953, when they merged into Moravian College and became the first coeducational college in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania. In 2021, Moravian College became Moravian University.

It is this rich history and founding legacy that we return to time and time again in order to shape our decision-making. This legacy shapes our community so that we continue to focus on equity and education for all, the practical nature of our education in solving society’s problems, and the need to build a respectful and functional community in the service of others. It enables Moravian University to educate a diverse community of learners in liberal arts and applied liberal arts on both the undergraduate and graduate levels and to do so in a shared community that believes and regularly engages in restorative practices. 

The Moravian Church’s motto is, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love.” The motto transcended Moravian’s leadership in education, equity, and personal freedom and is represented even in the stories of its buildings on its campus. For example, Moravian University’s 1748 music building is a former choir house for single men that was later converted into a Revolutionary War hospital so the Moravians, as pacifists, could treat the opposing loyalists and patriots with equal care. This building saw more than 5,000 wounded American, British, German, and French soldiers, including the Marquis de Lafayette. The building is on the National Historic Registry and World Heritage short list for recognition.

The heart of the Moravian philosophy is to build an effective community. 

The Moravian history and legacy guide the institution even in modern times. The heart of the Moravian philosophy is to build an effective community. The mission states Moravian University “...prepares each individual for a reflective life, fulfilling careers, and transformative leadership in a world of change.” One cannot have community unless one first strives for equity. For Moravian, equity happens when we seek to prepare each individual; that means meeting each student, faculty, staff, and alumni where he or she needs to be met in order to succeed. Moravian demonstrated this in 2014 when it provided MacBooks and iPads to all its undergraduate students to level the technology playing field, so that all students had the best equipment possible in order to learn. It also occurred in 2018 when Moravian founded the national honor society for first-generation college students, Alpha Alpha Alpha, or Tri-Alpha, to further assist first-generation students to succeed and be recognized at colleges and universities throughout the country. 

Being seen is important to the Moravian educational philosophy. This has been galvanized through the Mo Paw. As part of the 2015-2020 strategic plan, the Mo Paw was created as a tangible way to recognize another individual for their contribution to our community. The Mo Paw comes from the live Moravian greyhound mascot, which the students named “Mo,” short for Moravian. The Mo Paw is a card shaped as a dog’s paw. Students, faculty, and staff pick up Mo Paws from a variety of locations throughout the campus, personalize the front and back of the card, and then give it to the individual they are recognizing. We are regularly dumbfounded by how quickly we need to reorder thousands more Mo Paws and how people decorate their rooms, doors, and offices with Mo Paws with a sense of pride. We also created gratitude stoles for graduation that recognize the people most important to a student’s educational experience. The gratitude stoles are presented to the individual at graduation.

Moravian prides itself on building community. It is a Moravian campus tradition that everyone greets each other when passing on the quad, walking between buildings, or in the student union. In 2013, a survey was sent out to alumni, faculty, students, and staff asking for ways to improve campus traditions. One of the ideas that surfaced was that Moravian needed a forum where it could tell its contribution to society and then do something worthy of its history. A group of faculty and staff were tasked with figuring this out, and in 2015, our first Heritage Day occurred. The entire campus community comes together on a weekday to hear about the importance of Moravian in the world and in education, and then the entire Moravian University community volunteers for the day with numerous non-profits around the Lehigh Valley. After the day of community service, we return to reflect on what this day meant. For some of our students, this is the first time they are volunteering as part of a community, and these positive experiences have greatly increased the number of students wanting to continue to volunteer through our office of civic engagement.

Central to building equity and community is the act of reflection. You first need to reflect on who you are, how you arrived at where you are, and what helped you get there.  

Central to building equity and community is the act of reflection. You first need to reflect on who you are, how you arrived at where you are, and what helped you get there. Only then can you start to understand your advantages/disadvantages and how others may not have had the same opportunities. This act of reflection occurs throughout the student-life experience. Students are regularly encouraged to explore answers to three questions: who am I, how will we learn from each other, and what is our responsibility to the world? As the staff work with students, they commit to the following core values: 

  • Student-Centered: Empower one another to keep students as the focus of all decisions made and services provided by reflecting on the question “is this choice in the best interest of Moravian students?” 
  • Collaboration: Cultivate intentional, productive, and respectful partnerships by reflecting on the question “how will including others lead to shared success?” 
  • Inclusivity: Embrace diversified experiences, perspectives, and values by reflecting on the question “are we advancing our commitment to equity and justice in our community?” 
  • Community-Focused: Model compassion and empathy with our community partners by reflecting on the question “what is our impact on the world?” 
  • Transparency: Sustain trust and confidence through open and honest communication by reflecting on the question “are we engaging, explaining, and clarifying expectations?” 

Moravian also builds community through restorative practices. From the moment students walk onto campus, they are led through programs that set the tone for how we engage with one another face-to-face in meaningful dialogue, storytelling, and relationship building. This program began in 2016, when a planned educational session on college policy for students participating in the three-week summer bridge program was reworked into a responsive restorative circle to address multiple conflicts that had been ongoing since the group had arrived on campus. Students and staff provided feedback that the session was one of the most vital they experienced while on campus that summer. It was decided to build the circle into the program proactively the following year. In 2017, the circle was designed to explore the ways each student has already made the world a better place and to challenge them to consider how they will continue while at Moravian. In the process, the students engaged in storytelling and learned about their commonalities and differences. Following the success of this circle, it was decided to add a closing circle in 2018 so there would be a circle in the first and last week of the program. In 2019, it was decided to hold circles weekly, and this has continued, even through the pandemic when circles were held first online and then in hybrid form. The second circle focuses on community and stories of belonging. The Mo Paw is used as a talking piece in the first two circles as we talk about student successes on campus. The final circle uses a rolled-up piece of paper that looks like a diploma, to represent the shared goal we are all working toward. The circle centers around reflection on the past three weeks and looking forward to the next four years.

From the moment students walk onto campus, they are led through programs that set the tone for how we engage with one another face-to-face in meaningful dialogue, storytelling, and relationship building.   

Resident Advisors (RAs) are also trained to use restorative practices with their residents both proactively and reactively. Understanding the principles of restorative practices for RAs, such as the social discipline window and using affective questions and statements can be crucial to modeling this for their peers. Even more helpful can be an understanding of the compass of shame and how shame responses are normal reactions when people experience a disruption to their positive affect, understanding that a person’s shame response is not about the RA who is doing his or her job (even if it feels like it). This can be very helpful to stay grounded in the role of building the confidence in our young leaders. Basic conflict resolution methods such as circles and facilitated dialogues assist RAs to support their residents through the many challenging situations that arise in communal living situations. 

Restorative practice has impacted the entire campus, and training for faculty, staff, and students occurs regularly, particularly for anyone who sits on hearing boards. Workshops are held for those that express a desire for deeper work in this area. Circles have been used proactively across campus for many years. Student clubs and organizations have routinely requested these at retreats and other events. Each request is individualized after meeting with the requestor to understand the specific needs. Generally, circles provide an opportunity for all voices to be heard and stories to be told. We do a number of things to set the time in the circle apart from our everyday lives. This process is intentional, acknowledging the agreed upon values and guidelines of all participants. Talking pieces, meaningful centerpieces, and opening and closing ceremonies are thoughtfully planned. Circles have also been used to respond to conflict or address harm that has been caused. The technique has been used in multiple situations involving race, including between two student organizations, between students and campus police, and between individuals. In each case, participants were able to share their perspective, ask questions of others,  and work toward and show understanding and learning. These are very difficult conversations, and the circle process can create the conditions necessary to allow everyone to be heard and for everyone to reflect on their own beliefs and actions.

Moravian University has also had to reflect on who it has been asked to serve. Bishop Comenius believed that education should concern itself with that which concerns society. In other words, education needs to be practical and useful to society. To that end, Moravian has chosen to intentionally leave the residential liberal arts college model in order to serve a greater community and be more equitable to all students. Like the colleges and universities that were first founded in the 18th century, Moravian, as well, chose to move into the liberal arts in the 19th century. However, like those other early founded colleges and universities, we, too, see a greater mission to serve a more diverse society and community. Consequently, Moravian has chosen to embrace professional undergraduate programs and adult and graduate students and to serve other locations, such as Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Moravian has chosen to become a master’s comprehensive university following our founders’ lead to serve all who need education. This original mission is our legacy in a modern era. And while the words “liberal arts college” no longer appear in our Carnegie Classification, it is upon the liberal arts educational philosophy that our commitment to access, exploration, and transformative outcomes is built. We were founded to create a community of individuals interested in pursuing educational skills that help to make our society stronger, regardless of sex, race, class, or social standing. That founding mission is even more important today than it was in 1742.