On April 5, Minnesota Campus Compact celebrated the community engagement and partnership that happens on college campuses across the state. As one of the speakers, College of Saint Benedict President Dr. Mary Hinton emphasized the current need to expand dialogue around inclusion. Here is a condensed version of that speech prepared by the College of Saint Benedict:
“We are at a critical juncture in higher education. I think we have to ask ourselves whether our mission is to perpetuate social norms and the status quo or to challenge ourselves by striving for a different reality on our campuses and for our students. Or, as the Pedagogy of the Oppressed reads: ‘Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation … and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.’
"Educational institutions, locally and globally, continue to grapple with issues of inclusion: welcoming the rich and essential diversity needed to make our institutions and communities thrive. It is only when we combat ignorance with knowledge, and hatred with understanding, that we can begin to see progress with the critical issues of racism, poverty and social injustice.
"We know that, to be effective, teaching and learning moves us into some level of discomfort. As we ask questions, challenge historical assumptions, and seek to influence the future in what may be new and innovative ways, we may experience cognitive dissonance as our existing paradigms are tested.
"I argue that in the same way that we look to education to help drive improved economic outcomes and social mobility, we must also look to educational institutions to drive communities to reach their potential in the face of great change and complexity and to facilitate difficult conversations.
"Each one of us, regardless of our role on our campuses, has to engage beyond our comfort zone. I had to learn that my most important conversations likely weren't with my friends but with my enemies. Minimally, talking with my detractors forced me to expand my worldview, taught me patience, and, on some occasions, may have changed the perspective of these detractors.
"It is challenging to talk with your enemies. It is unfair that I had to, and you have to, use your energy to explain yourself and your worldview. I know what it is to walk into a room and be the only person who looks like me. I was at a conference recently and there were 400 people in the room and I was the only African American woman in the room. Part of my task in this life is to walk into that room. To embrace my difference, and to speak my truth. I have to speak it in a way that others can hear it. I have to speak it to my friends and to my enemies. I strive to speak my truth in such a way that were someone to listen, they couldn't tell who is, in fact, a friend and who is an enemy.
"That’s our task. It is a task that demands more from some of us than others. It is a task that will rely heavily on the work of allies. It is a task that on some days we may refuse to engage in out of a spirit of self-protection. Your willingness to extend yourself and to speak up – to be an ally – when you don’t have to; when you’re not explicitly targeted says far more about your intentions than the ease of signing a petition or holding a sign.”