Bringing It #87: Job Reminder and Conference Reflections
With the close of the academic year, this month has enabled us to attend some important, far-flung conferences— all of them exciting for the work of Bringing Theory to Practice. In this issue of Bringing It, we offer reflections on three of those convenings.
But before we get to that, one final reminder about…
Job Opportunity: Chief Storyteller for BT2P’s Paradigm Project
As we’ve told you earlier, Bringing Theory to Practice is searching for a Chief Storyteller for our new Paradigm Project. The project aims to advance systemic change to make undergraduate education more equitable, engaged, and holistic. Working with other educators and change-makers, we are pursuing this goal by braiding together integrative design, movement-building, and an effort to enlarge the current public narrative about the purposes and future of higher ed.
The Chief Storyteller will play an integral part in this work. They will oversee communications strategy, public messaging, and storytelling for the project, publicizing its goals and values and amplifying models of positive change for both academic and public audiences. This is a full-time position, and it may be either campus-based at Elon University or hybrid with periodic visits to our Elon offices. For a fuller description of the Chief Storyteller position and the qualities we hope to find in a candidate, here is the posting on the Elon University employment site: https://elon.peopleadmin.com/postings/8628. Feel free to contact David ([email protected]) with questions.
This is an exciting opportunity in an important effort for educational change. The review of applications will begin this Thursday, June 30, and will continue until the position is filled. Thank you for spreading the word to your networks!
Global Forum on Higher Education Leadership for Democracy, Sustainability, and Social Justice (Dublin, June 15-17)
The Global Forum more than lived up to its name. Hosted by Dublin City University, it brought together educators, students, policy officials, and democracy and human rights activists from Africa, Australia, North and South America, and Europe (including, of course, government ministers and university leaders from Ireland). All of them—all of us—shared a common commitment to the democratic, environmental, and social-justice mission of higher education. Yet I learned much from the various forms that commitment takes in (wildly) different national contexts.
Some threads of the program resonated closely with our priorities in U.S. higher ed—for instance, plenary sessions on racial justice, the needs of marginalized students, and local community partnerships. Even here, however, the international range of voices was bracing: the panel on responses to student needs included folks from Rutgers University-Camden, a Brazilian university, the Moldovan Ministry of Education, and an NGO supporting refugee students. Such discussions illuminated issues that I thought I knew well in new ways.
Still, other sessions introduced approaches that (to my eye) the U.S. academy hasn’t grappled with. There was a session on using the U.N.’s Sustainability Development Goals (SDG’s) to guide the public mission of higher education. The SDG framework, which integrates environmental, anti-poverty, human rights, and community-development commitments, is deeply influential in Europe, yet I have rarely seen it activated in the United States.
Hovering over the whole conference, of course, was the Russian aggression against Ukraine. Representatives from the Ukrainian education ministry gave a powerful slide presentation on the resilience of universities, schools, and students in the face of the war. And there was recurring attention not only to the specific effects of the war—for instance, the destruction of educational infrastructure and the displacement of students and educators—but also to the larger threat of autocratic nationalism on democratic public life, civil society, and the foundational role of higher education in sustaining them.
Coming at this moment, the Global Forum was both sobering and inspiring. It was a privilege to be part of it.
Bonner Foundation Summer Learning Institute (The College of New Jersey, June 16-19)
I was thrilled to represent Bringing Theory to Practice at the Bonner Summer Leadership Institute. A total of 290 students, faculty, and staff from schools in the Bonner network gathered for workshops, meetings, and experiential activities on such topics as civic engagement program development, student leadership, and initiatives for diversity, equity, and inclusion.
As one of the Bonner Foundation’s national partners, BT2P hosted workshops to introduce the Paradigm Project and explore ways that the Bonner network and BT2P could collaborate to advance holistic, engaged, and inclusive education. Attendees enthusiastically shared their own ideas about the values and larger purposes that should be at the core of undergraduate experiences.
I was particularly impressed by how participants advocated for equitable learning environments, student cohort programs, and institutional priorities that value learning both inside and outside the classroom. They also pointed to ways that being part of a broader collaboration could lift up innovative and transformative practices and help imagine new possibilities.
The Institute reinforced for me the importance of centering student leadership and integrating curricular and co-curricular learning as we develop the Paradigm Project. From start to finish, the Institute reflected student agency: students welcomed attendees, led sessions, asked hard but necessary questions, and helped create a culture of connection, joy, and “Bonner love.” I left the Institute rejuvenated and inspired for our collaboration with the Bonner network to model and support educational change.
Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement Meeting (Minneapolis, June 21-25)
Todd and I attended the annual CLDE conference (co-hosted by the American Association of State Colleges and Universities’ American Democracy Project and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators), which gathers higher education leaders who are working to support the civic purposes of higher education. The tumultuous political context for this year’s meeting gave an increased sense of urgency to the meeting’s theme “Democracy and Equity.” The House Select Committee’s January 6th Hearings, the recent Supreme Court rulings on gun control and legal access to abortion, among other topics, brought into focus higher education’s role in building the capacity of students for democratic engagement and changemaking.
Meeting sessions highlighted the creative collaborations among higher education and civic organizations to strengthen campus voting efforts and student engagement with public policy outside of formal elections. Speakers and workshop leaders advocated for a “messy” version of democracy that did not shy away from respectful disagreement and collaboration across differences. The University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s Center for Democracy and Civic Life shared a particularly compelling campus model for deep listening that valued diverse perspectives by facilitating a story-sharing circle around experiences of the COVID pandemic. I was moved by the honesty and depth of sharing and the thoughtful ways that story circles could help participants value individual stories and identify both commonalities and differences.
Speakers and experiential learning activities in the local context of Minnesota provided examples of how democracy’s highest aspirations were belied by long-standing systems of racial inequality, white supremacy, and settler colonialism. Conference sessions stressed how movements for democracy were inseparable from commitments to justice and equity, on and off-campus. The final workshop I attended highlighted the growing list of state legislation that would make voting more difficult for college students as well as communities of color and suggested ways colleges might protect and expand equitable voting access. This conference reinforced for me the unfinished state of democracy and the urgency for all of us to infuse democratic engagement and a commitment to equity into our work at this momentous time.
Especially after the stress and isolation of the last two pandemic years, all of us were energized (albeit sometimes nervous) to share space, thoughts, and conversations with friends and allies in the work of educational change and democratic building. Here’s to more such connections.
If you have reflections on convenings you are attending or conversations you are having, we would love to hear from you at [email protected].
Thanks for staying in touch, contributing to our work, and for all that you do,
David, Paul, Todd, and Gianna