International peace activist Reverend William Sloane Coffin, this term’s second Montgomery Fellow, arrived at the College yesterday, professing a desire to see higher education focus more on concrete experiences and “raising them to a conscious level.”
In an interview with The Dartmouth, Coffin said “values must be caught, not taught,” and believes he cemented his own value system through his experiences in Third-World countries and with the Civil Rights movement.
He said he would stress to students, however, that it is not necessary to go abroad to solidify one’s value system and said a city like New York can provide a similar environment.
The problems of poverty cannot be studied abstractly, he said, and “the problem with a place like Dartmouth is that … people who live in safety have a hard time understanding lives steeped in misery.”
Coffin said he hopes students will ask themselves, not what they can get out of life, but instead “What can life get out of me?”
“This is the difference between being successful and being valuable,” he said.
During his stay at the College, Coffin will present two public talks and will also meet with students and faculty in a variety of forums. His first speech, “Homophobia: The Last Respectable Prejudice,” will be held tomorrow at 4 p.m. in 13 Carpenter Hall.
Coffin said he will speak as a “convinced Christian” and discuss the Church’s position on homosexuality and deal with “those pesky Biblical passages.”
“The Church usually shows some support for the oppressed,” he said, but in the case of homosexuality, “it is leading the oppression.”
The extraordinary life experiences which molded Coffin’s beliefs began when he served as an infantry officer in World War II. He worked as a liaison to both France and Russia because he was fluent in both languages.
In the 1960s, Coffin played a key role in the Civil Rights movement and has continued this fight for various civil rights throughout his life.
In 1977, he became Senior Minister to New York’s Riverside Church in Harlem — one of the New York City’s largest churches — where he had previously served in a smaller capacity.
While holding this office, Coffin also worked in several Third-World countries for a group called Cross Roads in Africa and in the contra arms war in Nicaragua.
He later served as the first president of the SANE/FREEZE: Campaign for Global Security — now know as Peace Action — advancing the group’s world-wide nuclear disarmament agenda.
Since then, Coffin has published three books: “The Courage to Love: Living in a World of Illusions,” “Once to Every Man,” his autobiography and, most recently, “A Passion for the Possible.”
Coffin said his latest book attempts to “show church people how to deal with controversial issues, such as the conflict of career versus calling.”
Although officially retired, Coffin currently teaches actively around the country. He has taught classes at the University of California at Berkeley and Vanderbilt University, and has educated at other schools through programs like the Montgomery Fellow program.
Director of the Montgomery Endowment Barbara Gerstner said the purpose of the Montgomery Endowment is to bring outstanding individuals from academic and non-academic fields to the College.
Coffin brings a wealth of experience in both categories to share with Dartmouth students from his arrest as a Freedom Rider during civil rights protests of 1961 to his 18 years as Senior Chaplain of Yale University.