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Mark Mitsui | 6 comments
As we approach the inauguration of a new president and the ushering in of a new administration, many in higher education are wondering about what future policies and decisions might be made, and what their effect might be on college life. Students, faculty and staff at colleges and universities across the country are expressing concern about this uncertain landscape, and considering our role at this important moment.
What is our preferred future? How will we as institutions of higher learning maintain our commitment to equity and social justice, and honor diverse ideas and perspectives—the very tenets of a plural democracy?
I believe that today we have an unprecedented opportunity to live our values as a community college. We do not simply serve our community; we galvanize and recreate it every day. Now is the time for us to recommit ourselves to the principles of civil society and to the practices of democracy that actually constitute community—and our community colleges.
It is part of our national legacy to think of ourselves as “Democracy’s College.” Through our open-access mission, we have historically exerted a democratizing force in higher education, a mission that remains unique among nations. However, what if there is more to being Democracy’s College than providing open access to higher education? What if it also means providing students with an opportunity to hone the complex skills they will need to help our democracy thrive?
Democracy is not a given. It is a process of governance that is dependent upon citizens to be committed and engaged. The skills and abilities needed for this engagement are forged in the fierce light of democratic dialogue and debate, tempered by the cooling perspective of hard-won understanding.
Community colleges remain — by definition — some of the most socially and culturally diverse places in the nation. Our diversity is our strength. And right now, achieving our full promise is our nation’s challenge.
For me, hope is born from the twin characteristics of all who work at our nation’s community colleges — the tremendous capacity to care about our students, and the courage that stems from that passion. The courage to take all comers and to meet students where they are. The caring to acknowledge those who are not at the table. The courage to speak out for those without a voice. The caring to consider our students’ holistic development as people as well as future professionals. The courage to believe in students before they believe in themselves. The caring to think deeply about what to teach and how to teach it.The courage to develop innovative and responsive programs and support services. The caring to embrace the values of diversity, equity and inclusion. The courage to stand up for vulnerable students and declare ourselves a “sanctuary college.”
Let us call upon our courage again to help create the democracy we want to live in. This means providing students, faculty and staff with opportunities to listen, to learn and to better understand the perspectives of others—especially those with whom we do not agree.
The foundation of democracy is not complete unanimity or agreement—it is the commitment to the freedom of speech, opinion, and the common good. Right now, more than ever, we owe it to our students to provide them with opportunities to practice democracy, to respect and honor difference, and to become engaged citizens of our plural society.
For all our sakes, we want students to seek to become the leaders they wish to follow.