By: David J. Smith, April 25, 2017
I spend much of my time on the road visiting colleges and universities promoting the teaching and learning of peacebuilding and conflict resolution. Naturally, I also focus on social justice and diversity issues. In today’s political climate that questions the presence of immigrants, people of difference, and global education, we must be constantly vigilant in promoting a world that is tolerant and accepting of others.
As such, I was pleased to be invited to speak at the Virginia Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (VASFAA) conference in Virginia Beach, VA yesterday, April 24. I was invited by Joan Zanders, who is director of financial aid at Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA). The topic of my talk was “Promoting Inclusiveness and Justice for All Americans.” I had met Joan at the annual community college peacebuilding seminar that I direct at NOVA.
Generally, I am working with faculty and student activities professionals at colleges. But financial aid professionals are on the front line of ensuring access to higher education: if students can’t afford college, they will not benefit from the efforts of faculty and student affairs. Because many of these professionals are working with students who are living in marginalized situations because of economics or home life, it should not be surprising that they are interested in promoting inclusiveness and social justice.
For my talk, I shared about my visit to Virginia Tech that had taken place two days before: a student research conference on violence prevention. As a mostly Virginia group, they were deeply awareness of the April 2007 tragedy in Blacksburg, VA. I shared with them what I learned from the students in their research presentations. Hopefully, the lessons that the students shared at Virginia Tech can now be passed on to others.
Here are the eight points that I emphasized at the VASFAA conference that I had learned at Virginia Tech. I’ve attached my presentation below.
- We have made strides in advancing inclusiveness and justice, but we still have much work to do.
- Symbols and symbolism are important in our society. They can connote exclusion as well as inclusion.
- We have an obligation to the vulnerable to our society.
- Diversity includes more than the generally protected kinds of differences, but includes differences based on living conditions, economic circumstances, learning styles, and behavioral abilities.
- We need to remember that the motivation for people coming to the U.S. today is no different than in previous generations: to have a better life.
- We need to support the work of professionals working to make our society safe and accepting. We also need to be prepared to be critical when necessary.
- We need to continue to insure that colleges are safe places for students to learn and share.
- Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world, indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has (Attributed to Margaret Mead).