Dalton Institute 2018

Who Is My Neighbor?: 
The Power of Compassion and the Rhetoric of ‘Us vs. Them’


Respect, compassion, and inclusion are concepts widely promoted in civil society. These ideas unite under the religious notion that one should “love thy neighbor.” Often identified in more contemporary contexts as the Golden Rule or the the notion that in times of disagreement an individual should walk a mile in another’s shoes, such ideas are found across faith traditions throughout history:

BuddhismHurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful (Udana-Varga 5.18)
ChristianityThou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Mark 12:31)
IslamNone of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself (40 Hadith of an-Nawawi 13)
JudaismThat which is hateful to you do not do to another (Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
TaoismI am good to the man who is good to me, likewise, I am good to the bad man (Tao Te Ching)

Intergroup understanding requires an understanding of the ways in which we shape in-group and out-group identities. Who gets to be “in” and who is kept “out”? What characteristics define the border between “us” and “them,” and how do we navigate identities, others’ and our own, when that border is ambiguous or invisible? What are the spoken and unspoken rules that govern our interactions with those we perceive as being one of “us” versus one of “them?”

The current political climate has highlighted social, demographic, and ideological differences in visible, and often uncomfortable, ways. College campuses have become focal points in the battle of ideas about who we are as a nation, where we are headed, and how people of diverse backgrounds are (or are not) granted a claim to the “American” identity.

The 2018 Dalton Institute will explore identity as a power structure and higher education’s role in balancing the values of individual liberty and universal inclusion.

Guiding Questions

These guiding questions are not intended as a comprehensive list, but may provide focus for program proposals and a basis for reflection by all attendees.

  • How do higher education institutions conceptualize and define “diversity?” Do student experiences of difference on campus resemble the story told by institutional data and mission statements?
  • What is the role of free speech in the academy? Are institutional missions better served by free expression, even when that expression may be hurtful to the campus community? Are students better served by the exclusion of controversial speakers, even when such exclusion undermines the marketplace of ideas?
  • Who occupies the identities of “us” and “them” on today’s college campuses? How are demographic shifts changing the way we serve, students, campus communities, and the larger society?
  • How might we leverage spirituality, secular values, and our missions as institutions of higher education to better support learning, development, and success for students, faculty, staff, and our communities?