Bringing It

Bringing It #24: Celebrating Unique Work and Thoughtful Reads

September 19, 2019

What Our Partners are Doing: Rutgers-Newark’s Honors Living-Learning Community

Founded in 2015 and led by Tim Eatman (a member of the BTtoP Advisory Board) and Marta Elena Esquilin, the Honors Living-Learning Community (HLLC) at the University of Rutgers-Newark is a unique experiment in honors education. It serves talented students that have been systematically disenfranchised by systems of inequality, looking beyond traditional measures of academic success like GPA and standardized tests and cultivating untapped talent. The students belong to an intergenerational and interdisciplinary learning community including students, faculty, and community partners who are focused on tackling social issues, both global and local to Newark, New Jersey. 

HLLC has launched a number of successful initiatives, including the HLLC Social Justice Mural Project, Healing Sounds of Newark, ImVisible Newark, the RISE Program at Westside High School, and the Barringer STEAM Mentorship Program. More recently, HLLC has joined Humanities Action Lab (HAL), “a coalition of universities, issue organizations, and public spaces that collaborate to produce community-curated public humanities projects on urgent social issues,” as a partner in its newly-awarded Rikers Public Memory Project

Bravo to HLLC for its ground-breaking work in inclusive, honors education!   

What We are Reading: Notes from Kate Griffin, Project Coordinator of the PLACE Collaboratory

Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David EpsteinMelody Warnick’s This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live draws on creative placemaking, sociology, psychology, and humanities and applies insights from these fields to her own life as she experiments with giving up her nomadic ways and turning her yearning for home into real rootedness. In an age when the average American moves more than eleven times in their lifetime, This is Where You Belong provides a practical and accessible how-to guide for why and how we can cultivate “place attachment.”

The undergraduates in my two Tackling a Wicked Problem classes at Plymouth State University are all familiar with the now-ubiquitous 10,000 hours rule (popularized by Malcolm Gladwell, the “rule” is that the key to mastery in any skill or area is 10,000 hours of focused practice). I’m currently loving David Epstein’s Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World as an antidote to the cult of narrow and early specialization. Epstein explores how broad-ranging interests and experience in different fields and sectors matter, and presents an engaging and accessible argument that we should all aspire to be generalists to thrive in the complexity and rapid change of the twenty-first century.

What We are Reading: Notes from Director David Scobey

Last week the Chronicle of Higher Education published a terrific forum on the issue of meritocracy in higher education. They’re timely—a response not just to the admissions scandal, but also to the larger worry that “meritocratic” admissions do little more than reproduce educational privilege. As Caitlin Zaloom puts it, “The fiction of meritocracy” simply “deliver[s] more success to the already successful.”

Yet the ten op-eds offer other takes as well. Thomas Chatterton Williams defends standardized tests for opening the academy to black students like him. Leon Botstein calls for reshaping meritocratic selection to focus on outside-the-box excellence rather than conventional achievement. Anastasia Berg imagines what it would look like for elite schools to admit their classes by randomized lottery. Lauren Schandevel, a recent alum of the University of Michigan, excoriates the everyday marginalization that working-class students like her face on elite campuses.

The forum, in other words, is a provocation, not a policy argument. It led me to focus on the deeper problem of meritocracy, underneath specific practices like standardized tests or legacy admissions. How can higher ed fairly offer opportunity when it is a scarce good in an increasingly unequal society? Access to elite schools takes up most of the oxygen in this argument, but I’d say it’s only a small part of the problem. Expanding and equalizing learning in the rest of higher ed seems more important.

And one more thought: a few nights ago, I spent an hour brainstorming with one of my kids—a senior in college—about the challenges of defining his capstone thesis. It wasn’t a bribe to a varsity coach, but there I was, giving him the benefit of my educational capital, reinforcing the everyday inequalities of the system. What do we do when those inequalities are bound up with parental love?

Thank you for grappling with these issues with us, and for all the important work you do.


Mercedes, Caitlin, Kate, and David