Preparing Citizens to Thrive

When a religious extremist group assembled on Main Campus in the spring semester, promising hellfire and making offensive remarks about passing students, Osvil Acosta-Morales walked over to the leader to attempt a civil conversation.

He invited the man to attend an upcoming seminar he was hosting, titled “Religious Tolerance Is not a Virtue,” and left behind his business card so their exchange and inquiries might continue. Later on, he used that event to bring the real world into his classroom.

Acosta-Morales stepped forward that day to make a simple point: He wanted students to know that “It’s okay, you don’t have to stay silent. It was an opportunity to show them a different way to engage.”

Though the leader of the group did not attend his seminar, 60 faculty members, staff and students did come to hear Acosta-Morales, associate professor and head of History, Philosophy and Religious Studies, who explained that mutual respect, more so than tolerance, leads to crucial breakthroughs.

“Tolerance is often offered as something praiseworthy that we all ought to strive for in our lives. This is especially true today when it comes to religious tolerance,” Acosta-Morales said in comments later reported in the student newspaper. “And when presented with tolerance or intolerance as our only choices, it seems immoral, and foolish, to say, ‘I choose intolerance.’ However, if we take another careful look at what it means to tolerate someone or something, we might not be so quick to pat ourselves on the back for being tolerant of others, and their beliefs, and their way of life.”

Acosta-Morales is a professor who leads with bold actions and tranquil words. He speaks passionately of student success and Guided Pathways, a national community college reform effort that focuses on providing students with a highly structured experience that comes with clear academic program roadmaps, an onboarding process that clarifies student goals and career direction, and well-timed advising and support.

“It is a way for us to reach out to students in a more active and involved way,” he says. “It gives them the support and advice they need but don’t always know to ask for. It helps them answer the question, ‘where’s my path?,’ and provides an advising plan for getting them there.”

Acosta-Morales’ dedication to his students was recognized this year when he was named the recipient of the 2017 Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award. As the Lindback winner, he will give a spring lecture on a topic of his choice before the College community, and join the ranks of honored faculty who came before him.