As part of this year’s Founders Day celebration, students, faculty and alumni gathered to formally dedicate the new Otto and Fran Walter Commons for Global Study and Engagement, and to recognize the rich history of international and global education at Connecticut College.
President Katherine Bergeron pointed out that when the College opened its doors in 1915, the small group of faculty members included a significant percentage of professors with international credentials, which helped lay the foundation for Conn’s innovative global programs.
“From the very beginning, this little school on the hill had a broad and encompassing vision of higher education, and the wonderful thing is that that vision is still with us today,” Bergeron said.
“We continue to have a high proportion of international faculty at this college who are leaders in their field, which makes our educational culture quite special, especially for a small institution.”
The $1,675,000 renovation was made possible through a $750,000 grant from the Otto and Fran Walter Foundation, as well as $200,000 from the William Randolph Hearst Foundation; $175,000 from the George I. Alden Trust; and $50,000 from the Raymond Debbane Family Foundation. A generous gift from Susan Eckert Lynch ’62 was also essential to the project’s development.
The project dramatically transformed the first floor of the Blaustein Humanities Center into a modern, technologically advanced space that reflects the priorities of Connections, the College’s innovative new curriculum that reimagines the liberal arts.
The opening of the Walter Commons marks a new era of collaboration between the many campus resources dedicated to global study. For the first time, students can access the Center for the Comparative Study of Race and Ethnicity, the Global Learning Lab, the Office of Study Away, the Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts (CISLA) and the Office of Global Initiatives—all in a consolidated space, with common areas designed to foster dialogues about contemporary global issues.
Martha Peak Helman ’75, vice president and grants director of The Otto and Fran Walter Foundation, was on hand at the dedication to unveil the official portrait of the late Otto and Fran Walter.
“Otto and Fran believed that the way to achieve peace was through education and experience, and to advance dialogue and justice across academic disciplines, national borders and man-made boundaries,” said Helman. “That’s why we at the foundation are so proud that Connecticut College now has this facility dedicated to promoting the goals of peace that Otto and Fran Walter so strongly espoused.”
To conclude the ceremony, Binalakshmi Nepram, Connecticut College’s Rescue Scholar-in-Residence, spoke about the work she has done as a human rights and disarmament activist in her home country of India, and how vital exposure to global education is for the next generation of peace advocates.
Nepram’s residence has been made possible by the College’s partnership with the Institute of International Education and the Ann Werner Johnson ’68 Scholar Rescue Fund. The fund was established to support an imperiled scholar each year who is unable to pursue his or her work due to war, violence or human rights violations in their native countries.
Founders Day events kicked off earlier in the afternoon to mark the 107th birthday of Connecticut College and to recognize its early history.
From the start, Conn’s central purpose was to expand equality and social justice. After nearby Wesleyan University announced in 1909 that it would no longer offer admission to women, a committee was formed to create a new college in the state that could serve as an alternative for the growing number of women pursuing higher education. Every year on April 5, the College commemorates the date on which the Connecticut Secretary of State signed the College’s original charter.
Amy Dooling, associate dean of global initiatives, director of the Walter Commons and professor of Chinese, said Founders Day was the perfect time to celebrate the official dedication of the facility because of the values it represents.
“It’s so fitting that we’re marking this special occasion on Founders Day, because as a new space that promotes community involvement, social justice work and global perspectives, the Walter Commons embodies many of the ideals that inspired the origins of Connecticut College,” Dooling said.