Bringing It #51: Election Reflections and New Reads
It would be a stretch to say that Election Day brought relief from the civic crisis in the U.S. The struggle to renew our democracy will extend far beyond the Georgia run-offs and the inauguration of President-elect Biden and Vice-President-elect Harris. And higher ed will be a key site in that struggle. But for now, we hope that you’ve had time to breathe and recover from the corrosiveness of the campaign –– and that the stress and exhaustion of COVID-19 Fall Term are lowering as the end of term approaches. We wanted to mark the moment with a personal reflection on the election from BT2P’s fabulous new communications intern, Lilly Rothschild, and an additional comment by David. And we wanted to let you know about an exciting new blog and an important new book.
Lilly Rothschild is a junior studying Finance and International Business at Elon University’s Martha and Spencer Love School of Business. Lilly shares how she experienced this election cycle as a college student and how she’s looking to the future.
As a politically-diverse college campus, Elon University was bound to be an interesting place to experience the 2020 election cycle. There were plenty of Elon Votes communications circling through our inboxes and lots of preparation for post-election reflection, but what stunned me was the overwhelming yet quiet nerves no student could avoid feeling. This was not the election to be apolitical and excuse ourselves from voicing an opinion. This was the election to take full responsibility for the betterment of our country. At this point, it is just a fact that the past four years have been extremely polarizing. This made me nervous for the outcome and the trajectory of our country, but also for our ability to digest where we ought to go from here.
To me, hate lost on November 7th. Our votes, the popular vote, won. Joe Biden ran on one main argument –– the argument for unity, urging each of us to understand and tolerate one another with patience and respect. There is so much work to be done and progress to be made, but I look forward to paving new paths with those who I may disagree with and those who come from different backgrounds than I do. I am excited to start coming together, to learn, to have difficult discussions, and to collaborate again. As students, so much of this time is meant to find a variety of opportunities to learn from. I want to learn tolerance, kindness, honest communication, and advocacy from the leader of our country. I am excited to do just that in the communities I am a part of at Elon and beyond.
David adds these thoughts:
I am buoyed by Lilly’s excitement about student engagement in the election and her hopeful sense that “hate lost on November 7th.” She’s surely right to celebrate the levels of youth voting. I’m less confident that we will find paths out of polarization. To my eye, the election hardened rather than dislodged the divisions that Donald Trump’s politics of racism and grievance so effectively exploited. And once again, higher education is one of the key fault-lines. In a world of political stalemate, it will be hard to secure the resources that institutions and students need to weather the COVID-19 catastrophe. In a world of alternative facts and denialism, it will be exhausting to do the essential work of teaching and learning, making knowledge, and taking on the existential problems of racism, inequality, and climate change. And it will be harder than ever to pursue our mission of public engagement when our local communities are at odds with each other and with us.
Despite all that –– or because of it –– I take heart from Lilly’s commitment to “paving new paths with those who I may disagree with and those who come from different backgrounds than I do.” Whether it’s about confronting systemic racism or rust-belt deindustrialization, we’ll need that commitment for the long haul.
What are you thinking and feeling in the wake of the election? What was your experience as educators during the campaign season? We welcome your brief reflections.
A New Blog from Elaine Maimon
Our friend and colleague Dr. Elaine P. Maimon has long been a trailblazer in higher education. As an English professor, she was a pioneer of the movement for Writing Across the Curriculum. She has been an advocate for educational reform, innovative leadership, and change, not only as president of Governors State University but also as the author of Leading Academic Change: Vision, Strategy, Transformation and adviser to the president of the American Council on Education.
Now she can add “blogger” to that list. Maimon has launched a new blog to discuss topics close to heart, including strengthening the humanities, the importance of science, and current events. We look forward to keeping up with her writing, and we hope you enjoy it as well.
What We’re Reading: Relationship-Rich Education
It’s a happy coincidence when campus colleagues publish a book that has national importance for higher education. Two friends here at Elon — president emeritus Leo Lambert and Peter Felten, executive director of the university’s Center for Engaged Learning — have done just that. Their argument is distilled beautifully in the volume’s title: Relationship-Rich Education: How Human Connections Drive Success in College.
Drawing on hundreds of research interviews (including one with David), Felten and Lambert show that “relationships are the beating heart of the undergraduate experience.” They map the core relational practices –– relentless welcome, mentoring networks, inclusive teaching, everyday community-building — that support student flourishing, offering dozens of personal stories that embody how “relationship-rich education” works (and too often, fails to work). They show us exemplary teachers and programs, but they also stress the power of informal, everyday cultures of inclusion — cultures that can be intentionally nurtured. They stress the need for “webs of relationships,” rather than the single, heroic mentor or charismatic teacher. They make clear the current barriers to relationship-rich education, from the disabling effects of imposter syndrome and to the lack of faculty preparation. And they emphasize that, while every student deserves a welcoming environment, it is doubly important for undergraduates whose class, racial, and community backgrounds may leave them unseen and marginalized.
It can be easy to read this book and say, “of course, didn’t we know that already?” Research has already confirmed the importance of mentoring and social connectedness to graduation rates. But this book’s weave of big ideas and on-the-ground stories takes us beyond numbers. It presents a holistic conception of relational education in which curriculum and co-curriculum, teachers and mentors and student peers, all contribute to the flourishing of the whole student and the whole campus.
In the process, it poses a radical challenge. If we already knew that great education is grounded in the weave of human connections, why don’t we deliberately design for that? What could college and the student experience look like if we started by weaving the web of relationships? And in a time of crisis and distance, of pandemics, racial disparities, and student precarity, what could be more urgent?
Next week will bring the strangest of Thanksgivings, a holiday of too many Zooms and too-small gatherings. May it bring as much connection and replenishment as possible.
With thanks for the work you do.
David, Lily, Lilly, Todd, and Kate