Voices: 100 years later, UD students still ‘benefit immeasurably from being in and of Dayton,’ president says

Note: This guest opinion column by Eric F. Spina, president of the University of Dayton, will appear on the Ideas and Voices page Saturday, Sept. 19.

Exactly one century ago, the University of Dayton placed a stake in the ground, forever connecting ourselves in name and spirit with the city of Dayton.

What was then known as St. Mary College, “the school on the hill,” transformed itself overnight into a university — the University of Dayton. Surprisingly, the new name captured only a small headline in the Dayton Daily News on Sept. 4, 1920, according to “Of Dayton, 100 years and counting” in the summer University of Dayton Magazine.

As with every headline of a partnership — from the rebirth of the Dayton Arcade to the launching of the Greater West Dayton Incubator, this is a story of collaboration.

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As with every experiential learning opportunity — from students tutoring in Dayton’s Neighborhood School Centers to working side by side with Dayton residents to rebuild homes after deadly tornadoes, this is story of promise.

As with every contribution to local economic development and every discovery in a laboratory, this is a story of innovation.

A hundred years later, I pause to reflect on a simple question: What's in a name? What's in *our* name?

The answer is simple: community.

- Eric F. Spina, University of Dayton president

Just as we bound our identities together 100 years ago, so too do we continue to build our region’s future together.

When I interviewed for the University of Dayton presidency, I heard about the rich history between the university and the city. But I didn’t truly appreciate and internalize it until I saw the love affair between fans and the Dayton Flyers at sold-out Arena basketball games, experienced the joy on the faces of young children and students during the time-honored tradition of Christmas on Campus, and felt the energy of what is possible when I interacted with West Dayton community leaders.

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President Emeritus Brother Ray Fitz, S.M., has taught me so many valuable lessons during my presidency, but none may be more important than our obligation to connect our students and faculty to our community’s most pressing needs and to be a true partner in assessing and addressing them, whether it’s economic development or urban education reform.

“We have a responsibility to the community. We can’t be an ivory tower,” he told me.

But I also understand the power of this mutually enriching relationship, as our students and faculty learn extraordinary lessons by working side by side with community partners as equals in a shared quest for equitable, meaningful solutions. We become a stronger — much stronger — university because of our civic engagement.

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As I told James Fallows last year for an “Our Towns” feature for The Atlantic, our students benefit immeasurably from being in and of Dayton. Through engagement in our city’s struggles, opportunities, and joys, our students will begin to understand that they are placed on this earth to contribute — their knowledge, their skill, themselves — to address big issues. That is learning to be a leader in the Marianist way of life.

A hundred years later, I pause to reflect on a simple question: What’s in a name? What’s in *our* name?

The answer is simple: community.

Eric F. Spina is president of the University of Dayton