Guest Blogger: Michaela Gibbons on “Dean Rusk: Foundation of the Dean Rusk Program”

The Dean Rusk Program for International Studies, now known as the Dean Rusk International Studies Program, was started by Frontis Johnston while he was interim President of Davidson College. Inspired by David Dean Rusk’s confidence that a liberal arts education would make a “universal man,” the program was established to offer all students a breadth of global insight through “scholarships, professorships, travel, and much, much more.” In the international city of Atlanta on November 2, 1983, the Dean Rusk Endowment for International Studies nearly reached its halfway mark of their $1 million goal as the speeches were ending. Meanwhile, endowments in Dallas and Houston were already raising additional funds to meet the program’s 1989 goal of $10 million. The Dean Rusk International Studies Program was the first of its kind, particularly in the South. 1

Dean Rusk standing in front of a podium

On the surface, the program aimed to integrate international issues into the Davidson bubble. Program director and former ambassador Jack Perry worked closely with the faculty-led International Education Committee, which was integral in conceptualizing the program and its direction. While some global education existed in the college’s curriculum, Perry was determined to broaden its offerings, introducing Latin American, African, and Asian studies. Funding was provided to faculty interested in international travel and incorporating global topics into their courses across departments. It was imperative that these studies were not a school within, but an integral part of Davidson College. As the program aimed to reach every student, a diverse board, Dean Rusk Program Student Advisory Committee, was founded to represent the student body and their interests.

Dean Rusk speaking to students

Confronted with globalized differences and similarities, students would have the tools to reflect on their privilege and fight for liberty. In Rusk’s eyes, the values instilled in students by the college were fundamental to this program’s success. Hoping this work would start locally, the program cooperated with other offices on campus to expand their efforts into Charlotte, North Carolina. More ambitiously, the Rusk Program aspired to prepare students as future world leaders. In Atlanta, it was dictated:

“Equip them with a world related knowledge, equip them with a global thinking perspective, and to equip them with a multinational understanding with a multi-cultural appreciation and with a multilingual capability.” 

Speaker 2, Dean Rusk Speech – Atlanta, 37:02.

 Dean Rusk Program in International Studies inaugural program

The Rusk Program collaborated with other offices, programs, and universities “To give each student, first, an informed awareness of our whole planet, and second, direct knowledge of at least one foreign area.”2 While the first half of the mission became achievable on campus, the second half encouraged students to think beyond the small college town. Study abroad opportunities began in 1968, but with the Rusk Program’s support, it grew substantially. President John Kuykendall lauded:

A key aspect of our program both in the immediate past and for the foreseeable future has been the development of programs in conjunction with colleges and universities abroad. Our term abroad and junior year abroad programs currently provide remarkable experiences for personal growth to at least one of every four Davidson students.

John Kuykendall, Fall Convocation 1985, 0:00

Junior Year Abroad provided a unique opportunity for cultural immersion in countries, such as Germany and France at first and then across Europe, South America, and Southern Asia. This aspect of the Rusk Program has grown immensely in student participation and has granted Davidson College an international identity in higher education. Dean Rusk was enthusiastic about this program’s potential and was confident in its excellence. He urged program administrators to stay true to Davidson’s liberal arts identity while developing its global consciousness.3

Works Cited:

  1.  Dean Rusk, Dean Rusk Speech – Atlanta, 11:46. Speaker 2, Dean Rusk Speech – Atlanta, 30:35.
  2. Printed Material – Davidson College – Dean Rusk Program. 1989 – 1990. DC004. Dean Rusk Collection. Davidson College Archives, Davidson College, NC.
  3. History File, 1981 – 1983. 1981 -1983. RG 3/6.1. Dean Rusk Program. Davidson College Archives. Davidson College, NC.

Digitization and transcription funded courtesy of the Dean Rusk Program for International Studies. This blog post was written by Michaela Gibbons ’22. To listen to these interviews, browse the Dean Rusk Collection in Digital Davidson.

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