This Is Us

Rose Pascarell, Vice President for University Life, George Mason University

November 15, 2017

This is for all the VPSAs who are juggling multiple high-level priorities, increasing access, success, and completion; working to preserve the principles of freedom of expression in service to student growth, development, learning and the exchange of ideas; and managing the exhilaration, the pain and the outrage that accompanies that commitment to free expression in a college community.

This message is also for those who are welcoming controversial speakers to campus,  working hard behind the scenes to ensure that student voice is heard and campus safety and student care is preserved; working with already but now increasingly marginalized AND empowered student populations to instill a sense of community and belonging, hoping to minimize the paralyzing impacts of everyday oppressions with the added layer of emotionally-laden and potentially life-changing national policies that negatively affect our students and the health of our campus climate.

We have a lot going on.

In the last year alone on my own campus — the largest and most diverse public institution in Virginia — we were the site for the national conference of Students for Justice in Palestine; both Milo Yiannapolis (remember him) and Miley Cyrus came to campus to speak on various social and cultural issues (by the way, except for some similarity in first names, they have very little in common but I’m guessing you already knew that); we welcomed Opal Tometi, often regarded as one of the founders of the  Black Lives Matters Movement; former Vice President Joe Biden, spoke forcefully on men who rape; US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, spoke forcefully on the ill effects of the “Dear Colleague“ letters  and university processes that deal with men who rape; and we worked diligently to make sure our students who were/are directly affected by the administration’s travel ban and the rescinding of DACA have our support and know they are an essential part of our community.

We all have a lot going on.

Many of us continue to believe that we are experiencing a moment in higher education unlike anything we’ve seen in our entire careers and perhaps in the last 50 years.

But it’s also true that the current college environment provides enormous opportunities for students to find their voice(s), better understand themselves, and explore even more deeply who they want to be in and for the world.   If they choose, they can be both actively engaged or observers of civic learning and democratic higher education every day. 

And as institutional leaders, the current college environment is full of opportunities for us to engage in dialogue with each other and our staffs that requires a different, more urgent emphasis on leadership resiliency.  The moment is rife to strengthen our own ability to adapt in moments of challenge, increase our leadership agility, and truly redefine the meaning of disruption in higher education.

So, here’s to finding the transformational opportunities (and the magic) in this moment.   Let’s continue to work with the material we are being presented with to deepen our own and our students understanding of the full value of the college experience and the privilege of learning in (students) and working at (us) an institution of higher education.  After all, our memories of being part of a university community, just like our students’, will last a lifetime.

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