President's Message: Changemakers are part of Western’s history – and a requirement for our future

Since the day Western first opened its doors, our students, faculty, staff and alumni have strived to think ahead and take action.
By Sabah Randhawa
"Students are challenging this 125-year-old institution to do better."

Since the day Western first opened its doors, our students, faculty, staff and alumni have strived to think ahead and take action. When it was established in 1889, Western was among the first teaching colleges in the West, with an all-female first graduating class. In 1969, Huxley College of the Environment became the nation’s first dedicated college of environmental science and education. And in 2012 Western created the interdisciplinary Institute for Energy Studies to prepare students to tackle the world’s sustainable energy challenges.

At Western, “Active Minds Changing Lives” is embedded in our uniquely collaborative and experiential learning approach, and the reason we’re poised to serve a world that needs original perspectives now more than ever. That innovative, action-oriented spirit is reflected in this issue of Window by the eight Changemaker Fellows of Western’s IDEA Institute, who are challenging status quo thinking about social re-entry after incarceration, exploring cultural identity through images, language and music, and how to develop smarter incentives for responsible energy use. 

In the process, they and other students are challenging this 125-year-old institution to do better.  Links between the broader social context off campus and students’ on-campus activism have long been a means for students to contextualize what it means to pursue social change on our own campus and in their communities. Research has shown that students engaged in activism tend to continue their political participation well into mid-life and acquire a greater sense of social responsibility. Pursuing the difficult work of building understanding and creating lasting social change also adds complexity and nuance to our students’ emerging views, and honors the longstanding tradition of U.S. colleges and universities as laboratories of social change.

As we look to the future, Western is committed to advancing inclusive success for all students, increasing our impact in Washington, and fostering a caring and supportive environment in which all members of our community are treated with respect and fairness. While this will require difficult conversations and new strategies, our success will be built on the active, forward-thinking culture of students, faculty, staff, and alumni that Western has fostered from its earliest days. I invite every member of the Western community, past, present, and future, to embrace that challenge, and I look forward to taking the journey with you. 

is president of Western Washington University

Photo by Rhys Logan ('11)