Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Poking a sleeping dog?

To me, the idea of taking a year to explore hot-button contemporary issues is a kind of like seeing how often one can poke at a sleeping dog before it wakes up and bites you. But never one to back down from a challenge, for the past three years Bluffton’s faculty has chosen to explore a “significant contemporary issue in cross-disciplinary ways” through general education courses and student-life programming.

Student-initiated recycling programIt’s an interesting concept. Select Forum speakers, academic courses and student activities all focus on exploring this one theme throughout the year. First-year students are assigned summer reading focused on the topic, and then the author of that book is the speaker at Opening Convocation. A faculty member is selected the “civic engagement scholar” and serves to champion the theme. The year is wrapped up with Civic Engagement Day with additional speakers, student and faculty presentations and other events and activities.

a scene from 'Whatever Kindles'The first two themes were: Environmental Stewardship: Living in the Natural World in 2007-08 and Living with Uncertainty in a Complex World) in 2008-09.

Some examples of student initiatives from these studies included a campus-wide recycling program and the introduction of Trayless Tuesdays (where there are no trays in Marbeck to save water, dish soap and food) in 2007-08; and the performance of “Whatever Kindles,” a fictional docudrama exploring the everyday experiences and struggles of members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, and men from across campus walking one mile in women’s high-heeled shoes to raise awareness of rape, sexual assault and gender violence in Walk A Mile In Her Shoes® in 2008-09.

This year the chosen civic engagement theme is “Beyond Borders: The Role of Immigration in a Global Community.” Sonia Nazario, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and author of the required summer reading Enrique’s Journey, was the Opening Convocation speaker.

In the President’s Forum address, President Harder recalled Ms. Nazario’s challenge for us to deal with the “shades of grey” surrounding the immigration question. He said, “One of those ‘shades of grey’ issues for most of us is the reality that our own ancestors were immigrants to the United States, often coming here out of their own sense of desperation. They—and we as their descendants—benefitted tremendously from the opportunity they found in America.”

Hmmm. It’s going to be an interesting year to see where the students go with this one.

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