This past weekend was our first long travel weekend in Rome, and my friends and I decided to visit Berlin. While we were there, we saw the tourist sites, including the capital building and what’s left of the Berlin wall. Perhaps most importantly, we went to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany.
From 1936 to 1945, thousands upon thousands of prisoners were forced into Sachsenhausen, brutally malnourished, mistreated, beaten, abused and slaughtered, their bodies stacked up in forgotten piles along the very paths through which we walked. As sobering as it is to pray in the presence of the popes buried beneath the Vatican, to walk through the San Sebastian Catacombs, or to kneel in front of the footsteps of St. Peter, nothing in the University of Dallas Core could have prepared me for what it would feel like to stand in the midst of that camp.
Though our Core curriculum thoroughly equips us for spontaneous philosophical debates over the merits of Immanuel Kant or lengthy discussions on the prose in the Aeneid, it can be difficult to find the present day application of every work we read. Each of these studies is valuable and worthwhile, but are they entirely sufficient for the well-rounded education we claim to receive at UD? Absent from the Core are a plethora of troubling elements of history.
We immortalize the works of Martin Heidegger, dismissing his firm allegiance to the Nazi party. We sensationalize Plato’s Republic, paying insufficient attention to the horrifying destruction of the family suggested throughout its troublesome pages. We read Nietzsche’s work, but do we properly consider the gravity of its implications?
We’ve only been in Rome for a few weeks, but so far the bulk of our trips and excursions has been almost exclusively to churches. Those graves we do pass through are tied intrinsically with the Christian faith, and, though they provide a beautiful experience each time we visit, they offer little diversity to the curriculum at UD, which is largely based on Western tradition.
We study the human person, but how often in our studies do we remember the East? How many textbooks do we pour over that detail the heroes of the other side of the world? Had we spent even a fraction of the time on more recent history as we spend on, say, the “Symposium,” perhaps we might then be able to better and more fully appreciate the grandeur of the cities we now have the opportunity to experience.
Too often we go to big-ticket sights like the Colosseum, the Vatican or the Trevi fountain just to cross off an item on our tourism checklist. But how often do we take our time to see some of the less popular sights, to explore non-western historical landmarks and to venerate the non-Christian dead?
Our zeal for Western culture, though not improperly placed, does have the tendency to blind us to other major aspects of history, particularly its atrocities. In our time at UD, we learn what it is that makes up the human person. As self-declared independent thinkers, we ought to extend that knowledge and understanding to persons beyond the narrow scope of our Western lens.
We would do well as a university to expand the sights we see to include not just the churches and saints who inspire us, but also the history that makes us uncomfortable — for in that discomfort is often where the most life-changing experiences truly emerge.