Welcome back to the grounds! I had the pleasure of staying in touch with many of you during the off-season months, and I know that you were as eager to return as we were to receive you back! Many of you wrote some version of “I can’t wait to return to my happy place” over the winter and spring seasons. Chautauqua is indeed that for many of us — a place where we can nourish our minds, our bodies and our souls. Our four pillars of Arts, Education, Religion and Recreation certainly provide us the multitude of opportunities and activities to feed us on a deeper level. However, it is not just the program that brings us back to this magical place year after year. We return, I believe, because we feel like we belong here.
My Chautauqua journey started about a decade ago when my husband and I visited the grounds for a day. The combination of the morning worship services and lecture platform speakers against our bucolic grounds, combined with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra performance that evening left me mesmerized. I felt like I had found my people. I instantly felt like I belonged here. That same evening, my husband and I took a walk down to the Bell Tower and discussed the magic of Chautauqua. We were so enchanted by this place that we walked up to one of the real estate offices to look at what kinds of properties were available for sale on the grounds. We were not too far out of our graduate programs, so our student loans might have kept us from moving in the direction of buying a place right away. None the less, we could instantly imagine a future here. We had found “our people.” We felt like we not only wanted to be here, but that we belonged here.
I chose to write about belonging as my first column for this season because I think it is an important concept for us to collectively reflect on. What do we mean when we say “I belong here”? Is belonging an intellectual concept? A feeling? A gut reaction? What are the conditions necessary to create a community that widely promotes a sense of belonging? Is it just politeness? Alignment of values? Fun things to do? Perhaps there are no easy or universal answers to these questions, but I imagine that each of us might have our own set of experiences that lead us to that feeling of belonging.
I know that many of you are not only committed to building an inclusive community, but that you practice everyday acts that promote an ethos of inclusion on our grounds. Belonging might very well be the outcome when a community practices inclusive practices round the clock on a consistent basis. My title as Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (IDEA) Officer places a certain level of responsibility on promoting these values and translating them into action. However, I am just one person and a humble co-companion on our collective journey to become a Beloved Community. In other words, I simply cannot do it alone. I see each and every person who calls themselves a Chautauquan as a key contributor and supporter of these ideals. Our collective practices and openness to inclusion and diversity are going to be key in this work. I am grateful for those of you who have actively engaged in these everyday, ordinary practices. In future columns, I hope to uplift some of these practices for our collective reflection.
For now, I want to invite you to read the annual IDEA update I published in the spring to highlight the IDEA work undertaken by the Institution over the past year. This update is available at chq.org/idea. Additionally, I want to extend an open invitation to share your thoughts and ideas with me anytime you see me walking across the grounds. You are also welcome to stop by the Colonnade anytime or come break bread with me at Hurlbut Church most weekdays.
I will share one last parting thought. In most past jobs I have had, I never envisioned retiring at those institutions. This is not to say that I did not have deep affection and care for those organizations. However, I have felt that connection for Chautauqua long before I started working here, and it has only been affirmed by my experience here. Thank you for making me feel like I belong here. I hope you share that feeling as well.
Senior Vice President
Chief Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility Officer