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Reflections on courageous inquiry

When you think about courage, what comes to mind? For some, it might be putting oneself in harm's way to protect another. For others, it might be challenging a long-held regional belief that is no longer relevant in a global world. For some, it is daring to stay at the negotiation table despite differences to arrive at compromise.

In November, Provost Claire Sterk focused on the topic of courage in her presentation to the Emory Board of Trustees on the official closing of Emory's strategic plan, Where Courageous Inquiry Leads. She included many specific examples of how Emory has embraced courage in the past decade. For starters, the university leadership had the courage to be idealistic and aspirational in the face of the cynicism in the world by including phrases like "ethically engaged," "positive transformation," and "courageous leadership" in its mission and vision statements. It had the courage to apologize for the university's early historical involvement with slavery and to undertake the Transforming Community Project, which engaged 1,500 faculty, staff, and students in sustained study and dialogue regarding race and slavery.

In the fall of 2014, Emory was courageous in welcoming patients who had contracted Ebola while serving others in West Africa back to U.S. shores for treatment in its isolation unit. It was bold in appointing the XIV Dalai Lama as a distinguished faculty member and in setting up the Emory Tibet-Science Institute, which brings together Western science and Eastern religion to explore what each can learn from the other. And it dared to take on something bigger than itself in tackling global health, in questioning age-old wisdom about, for example, the origins and meaning of life, and developing new ways forward on challenging issues, such as its faculty have done in response to the Ferguson movement.

"To follow our mission of research, teaching, and service, not only when it is easy to do so, but also every day even when it is hard: that is truly courageous," Sterk said. To read about more examples of courageous inquiry at Emory, view the plan's final report here (PDF).