Roger Williams University is named for the founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams. Roger Williams was a remarkable individual, who deserves much broader recognition in our nation than he generally receives. (A recent book by John Barry, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, provides a fascinating account of his life.) Suffice it to say, he was a man well ahead of his time. Consider:
So those of us at the institution that bears his name take his legacy seriously. We often ask, “What would Roger do?” as a way of helping us think through thorny problems and issues—not because we are seeking divine guidance, but because we want to be faithful to his sense of fairness and openness. He spoke of “soul liberty,” a term that sounds anachronistic today, but which basically refers to protecting people who are following their conscience in what they do. “Toleration” doesn’t really describe it. Rather, it was more a celebration of differences, a sense that each person is entitled to find his or her own way in being faithful to his or her beliefs.
To be sure, Roger Williams was more than pleased to be able to debate those with views different from his own—openly challenging the strength and clarity of a person’s beliefs was very much a part of his world—but he never thought ill of people who held different beliefs.
At Roger Williams University, we are strong proponents of civil discourse and civic engagement. We are more than delighted to challenge accepted wisdom, but strive to do so without rancor or ridicule. We are not interested in having our students hermetically sealed away for four years, in monk-like contemplation, shielded behind the University’s walls (by conscious design, we don’t even have walls around our university), but instead we find a myriad of ways to have them participate in the workings of society from the first week of their freshman year. We want our students as fully prepared as possible to thrive and succeed in the world that awaits them after graduation.
Civil discourse coupled with civic engagement. We think Roger Williams would approve.