"Safe Places" by Dean of Faculty Maura Sullivan
Thanksgiving is always a time for families to gather and my family is no exception to this rule. We typically spend the holiday at the home of my oldest brother. In any given year, there are between 20-25 people around the table. My sister, who is not typically one of the faces at the table, joined us this year. This was an unusual occurrence, as she lives in Bethel, Alaska. She almost never comes to the east coast for less than a full week, as it takes nearly a full day of travel to get here. This year, she decided to take a relatively quick trip and visit for five days.
Bethel is on the west coast of Alaska, roughly 400 miles west of Anchorage, with a population of about 6300. It is significantly smaller than most of the towns that Nobles students come from, but it is the largest community in western Alaska. Bethel is essentially a village. My sister has lived there for nearly 20 years. It is where her husband was born, where she calls home, and where they are raising their three children. While it is often hard to comprehend why she lives where she does, hearing her talk about small town life makes me see the similarities to working at a school like Nobles.
This fall, I have once again realized how thankful I am to work in a village. The analogy of Nobles as a village is not one for which I can take credit. A wide variety of people have recognized the similarities. In fact, when you stop to think about it, the resemblance is clear: in a village, everyone knows each other, the adults all pitch in and wear many hats in order to keep the village running smoothly, the villagers look out for each other, you often hear the opinions of others whether you asked for them or not, and there is always someone willing to lend a hand in time of crisis. Given that the term “provost” means “a local official, including the equivalent of a mayor,” having Bill Bussey as our provost only adds to the analogy!
There are pros and cons to “living” in a village. For me, the pros have always outweighed the cons. For students, I imagine that having many people keeping tabs on you and knowing your business isn’t always a positive thing. I know that they can recognize the benefits, but by the time they graduate, most students are ready for life in a bigger city. However, seeing how many alumni stop by Nobles while home on break from college leads me to believe that they certainly begin to appreciate the village more after they have left. They return to touch base with their Nobles family and to reconnect with what is familiar.
On a daily basis, Nobles is a great place to work. However, the benefits of the village are never more evident as when the chips are down. In less than twelve months, we’ve experienced two tragedies at Nobles. We’ve dealt with the death of a colleague (who was also a graduate) and, most recently, the death of a current student. It is in times like these when it is good to be in a village. In hard times, it is comforting to be with people who know you, care for you, and are willing to do whatever they can to support you.
Hard times allow us to gain a perspective that we too often lose sight of otherwise. We’ve all learned this year how fragile life can be. In the blink of an eye, your world can be turned upside down. What remains constant is the love and support of family and friends. For my sister, Bethel, Alaska, provides her with a supportive community a world away from the life she left behind here long ago. She is back there now, back to what is safe and familiar to her. At Nobles, where faculty, students, and employees often spend far more time on campus in a given week than we often do in our own homes, we find the same type of safety and familiarity within these walls. We don’t need to turn the clocks back to when people lived in villages and took care of each other. We do it here every day.