I’ll admit, I was overly excited for the recent #sachat about how to discuss current events in higher education environments. I have a tendency to be a bit of a news junkie. I love to read newspapers (yes, they still exist), watch cable news, and visit various journals or blogs. I can’t get enough, however, discussing news and current events in higher education can elicit a wide variety of responses:
– Students don’t care about current events
– News is too much of a “hot button” topic, we should stay away from it
– I work in a very conservative/liberal environment, my views are very different
– I am not informed myself, I don’t feel comfortable discussing current events
I subscribe to the school of thought that colleges and universities serve an important social function in providing a safe space for the exchange of disparate beliefs. As the world becomes more interconnected, we have to celebrate differences and promote critical thought. When we espouse the dialectic of challenge and support, we must be willing engage in a partnership with students that provides an opportunity to discuss big challenging ideas without clear answers.
Can these conversations be uncomfortable and difficult? Absolutely! But our campuses have historically been the sites of important social dialogue. In 1970, students at Miami University gathered in Rowan Hall – now part of the new Student Center – to protest the Vietnam War and racial inequality. Nearly 45 years later I witnessed students gather in the same location to protest the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island. Regardless of your personal political ideology, it is important to recognize students on our campuses will approach current events with a variety of perspectives. As educators we should strive to provide opportunities, spaces, and programs for our students to explore these differences and create a supportive environment. How do you provide opportunities for students on your campus to reflect on current events? As 2014 ends, I have been thinking about the numerous headlines this year. Consider this sampling of topics:
– Grand jury decisions in Ferguson and Staten Island
– Political fights over immigration reform
– Fallout from the Rolling Stone UVA article
– Normalizing relations with Cuba
– Ebola outbreak in West Africa
– Expansion of same-sex marriage to 19 states
– Senate report on CIA Enhanced Interrogation Techniques
– Student employment limits as a result of the Affordable Care Act
– Growth of ISIS in Iraq and Syria
– Cyber hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment
– Global tension in Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, Pakistan, Syria, Nigeria
– Growing student debt crisis
Each of these topics may be impacting students on our campuses in a number of different ways. So, how can we use current events as learning opportunities to enhance critical thinking capacities? If you advise a campus newspaper you can discuss the lessons learned from Rolling Stone? If you supervise student employees, how do you discuss employment hour limits that are the result of provisions in the Affordable Care Act? If you work in Study Abroad or International Education, how do you help students navigate opportunities in geographic areas with political unrest or infectious disease outbreaks? How do you support students deeply impacted by the events in Ferguson and Staten Island? So many of these topics have multiple layers of complexities and nuance, however, providing opportunities to unpack these issues is a function of our higher education system. Yes, certain news sources will have a conservative or liberal perspective, but understanding current events requires reflection on multiple perspectives. There are a lot of big problems that require creative solutions across the world, and we are uniquely positioned as institutions of higher education to provide an environment that supports dialogue across different perspectives. Does this require student affairs practitioners have a degree in political science or diplomacy? No. It requires a basic awareness of current events. I recognize this post has presented more questions than answers, but as I frequently tell students when discussing current events I don’t have all the answers. I, too, learn and grow from these types of discussions with students and colleagues. In a few short days we will be greeted by the hope, possibility, and challenges that await us in 2015 .
How will you incorporate current events into your professional practice in the New Year?