Director of College Counseling
Gabrielle Giffords on Liberal Arts and Women's Education
overwhelming tragedy in Arizona, and attempted assassination
of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is deeply disturbing news. It has
put a focus
on divisive questions of gun control, immigration rights, and freedom of
speech. In learning more about
Gabrielle Giffords—her educational background, her strength of
her deep engagement in life—I was not surprised to learn that she was
in a single-sex environment, Scripps College.
The following tribute to Gabrielle Giffords from the President of
Scripps adds an important dimension to our picture of this dedicated and
leader. It speaks not only to
Giffords’ intelligence and courage of conviction, but also to the value
places on her liberal arts education honed in a single-sex educational
Bettison-Varga (1/11/11) President, Scripps College
nation is reeling with the devastating events in Tucson and the attempted
assassination of Gabrielle Giffords. While we do not yet know the full details
of this tragedy, nor do we understand the true motivation that led to the
killings, authorities indicate she was the clear target. We all struggle to
understand how anyone could do something so heinous.
College, a small, women’s liberal arts college is Gabrielle Giffords’ alma
mater. So we are particularly heartbroken by the tragic events and are rallying
around Gabrielle and her family. As we hold her in our hearts, we are unified
in our voice that Gabrielle embodies the values of Scripps College and a
liberal arts education, and thus represents the best the nation has to offer.
a role model, not just for our students, but for all women and for all
Americans. She did not shy away from her calling to be a leader. With grace and
determination, she has become an outstanding and courageous public servant.
Gabrielle Giffords’s career shows that she is fiercely independent — framing her
positions on issues thoughtfully and humanely, and, in the words of our
founder, Ellen Browning Scripps, "with confidence, courage and hope."
her own words. In her 2009 commencement address at Scripps, Congresswoman
Giffords told our students: “The safety of the world depends on your saying
‘no’ to inhumane ideas. Standing up for one’s own integrity makes you no
friends. It is costly. Yet defiance of the mob, in the service of that which is
right, is one of the highest expressions of courage I know.” Prescient words.
service, in all forms, is courageous. Respectful disagreement — the ability to
hear another’s viewpoint despite your own, without hate and distortion — has
been lost in the current political climate. Gabrielle Giffords believes in her
calling to enact change through the political process in an open, honest, and
authentic manner, without harsh criticism or inflammatory rhetoric.
deeply appreciated her liberal arts education: the exposure to different ideas,
different ways of thinking. In her words: "What Scripps forced you to
grapple with was a peeling back of the human onion in order to discover the
supreme value of the soul and how crucial it is to maintain personal integrity
and honesty." She believes in free exchange of ideas, understanding
difference, and taking a stand based on rational and critical reasoning. As
Martha Kantor said to the Annapolis Group in 2010, "A liberal arts
education teaches us [that] empathy is hard-learned, but demagoguery is easy."
What can we
take away from this tragedy? We have a responsibility to the victims and their
families to learn from this event. A senseless act must be turned into an
opportunity for this country to unify, to learn from Gabrielle Giffords about
the power of constructive and collaborative dialogue. To embrace human dignity,
to resist the temptation to point fingers and blame, but to change the
discourse for the betterment of our future. We are, after all, a democracy — a
democracy that requires an empathetic and knowledgeable citizenship and
respects the right to disagree.
Lori Bettison-Varga is
president of Scripps College.
© Copyright 2011 Inside Higher
commencement address to Scripps Class of 2009, “Find the Calling of Your Heart”
provides insight into her educational formation and value on single-sex
education. Her words are powerful, prescient-- and worth reading.
Gabrielle Giffords-- and all those involved in this terrible tragedy-- are on our minds and in our