President's Notebook

President's Notebook

My View from South Hill

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Posted by Thomas Rochon at 4:14PM   |  Add a comment
Belle of the wall: a clinker.

I chatted recently with Mr. Kevin Lee, master bricklayer, as he repaired a brick wall adjoining Textor Hall. Mr. Lee was using recycled brick from a building that had been demolished somewhere else in the region. The brick had originally been made in a now-closed manufacturing plant in the nearby town of Horseheads. The distinctive HH emblem could be clearly seen on the side of each brick before it was laid.

I was especially interested in the periodic placement of bricks that were discolored and twisted. Mr. Lee said these bricks -- known as "clinkers" -- were not made that way on purpose, but had been put in the kiln at an odd angle or baked too long.  Use of these bricks on Ithaca College walls creates a distinctive mosaic of texture and difference that I had noticed the first time I set foot on campus. I asked Mr. Lee if it was common to use these in constructing brick walls. 

"I've laid brick around the country and in other parts of the world," he replied. "I have never seen these bricks used in construction. They are usually discarded."

I walked back to my office thinking about the use of such a variety of bricks as a parable on diversity at Ithaca College.  Tolerance of diversity implies a willingness to use every brick as a way of making the fullest use of the complete range of available materials.  Celebration of diversity implies a positive appreciation that the wall with clinkers is aesthetically superior to a wall composed solely of bricks that are even in color and smoothness.  But the true embrace of diversity means getting away entirely from the concept of a "normal" brick.  Before talking with Mr. Lee, I had assumed that the clinkers were an intentional expression of artistic sensibility. If anything, I believed, it must take greater artisanal skill to make a clinker than to make a smooth six-sided brick. In talking with Mr. Lee, I lost my uninformed innocence about clinkers -- will I ever look at these walls the same way again?

The phrase "all humans are made in God’s image" is one that many of us hear so early and so often in life that we become insensitive to how radical a proposition that is. Can we see in everyone we meet not just someone who merits our tolerance, not just someone who deserves our respect, but someone who is beautiful and uniquely perfect?

Which I suppose makes us a community of magnificent clinkers.


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