Office of Inclusive Excellence

The Transformational Power of an Education

February 22, 2022

By Brian Corpening

What do we want? What is the thing we are after? As it was phrased last night it had a certain truth: We want to be Americans, full-fledged Americans, with all the rights of other American citizens.”  -W.E.B. Du Bois, 1926.

For many Americans, Du Bois’ words represent the journey that we have had to make to realize the opportunities that are frequently promoted as the so-called American Dream. I was raised in a military family; the child of an active duty serviceman and a mother who served as both a supporter of my father and the backbone of our military family. My education defied labels that have too often been placed on people of color, especially people whose historical relationship with this land has been troubled. As part of a military family, I was raised all over the world and received an education that reflected that exposure. My experiences vitalized my intellectual curiosity and passion for seeking wisdom and knowledge. To this day I am still driven by that insatiable desire to know. It is the incessant itch that I am always seeking to scratch.

Du Bois’ words are powerful and they resonate with me.  I am an American, who has experienced the world quite differently than most who look like me. As a matter of fact, my educational experiences are unrivaled by most people. Yet, I too have  experienced – as a student and a professional – the attitudes, bias, and low expectations that accompany the racial ignorance that far too many possess. America’s original sin of slavery and racial oppression have caused too many generations (of all racial/ethnic backgrounds) to miss an education that enlightens and stirs the same curiosity to know and understand that took hold of me. That is a tragic, and continuing shame. Education -- in an unbiased, equitable manner -- can truly transform. To achieve that level of transformation through education, everyone must be respected and welcomed into a world of equals. Mutuality of respect is not about weakness, it is about the recognition of the different journeys we have all experienced and what those journeys represent in the creation of what makes this country what it purports to be.  

I have dedicated my career to the power of an education that uplifts and enlightens. I still see myself as that little boy who devoured books and knowledge and was driven by that insatiable curiosity. I believe that the excitement of learning and discovering is what we should always seek. We should never be afraid to engage in dialogue with someone we do not know. We should never be afraid to understand a different perspective and way of seeing the world. Finally, we should never be afraid to have our worldview challenged. Challenge is how we grow. And that is always a good thing.