Genesis story: a few friends had a series of revelations near the end of their college journey. We asked each other two core questions:
- What if we can bring people together to engage in meaningful shared experiences, especially those who would have few reasons to see each other?
- What if we can do it regularly at a beautiful space, especially one that no one on campus would think of as a space for gathering?
The challenges and opportunities
- There are not enough ways for student on campus to meet each other that allow us to share more of who we are. (More precisely, there are not enough "excuses" - as college student you either do group project together, join some kinds of clubs or societies or try online dating)
- Each of us has talented friends who should meet each other and share with each other their interests and talents.
- The most unused space on campus in the evening is administration buildings, which are often quite beautiful.
Digging deeper - why?
- There is not enough quality dialogue across campus. From personal experience of being on an active liberal campus, many conversations often get stuck in echo chamber around the same kind of issues: justice, privilege, oppression. Even though the intention is good, those who need to be part of it aren't not there, which makes those conversations less productive. Also, there are a lot of judgment, anger, blaming and fear behind, which does not help with moving forward.
- Even though we live on the same campus, those who have no reason to meet each other often do not meet each other. Many end up in their own circles. The silos among different class years, majors, groups on campus reflect the larger phenomena of echo chamber as seen in the US.
- "Inclusion" and "diversity" in higher education world are the two words that are heard as often as bread and butter. Unfortunately, unlike bread and butter, they don't go together well. We try do tackle this difficult problem at a smaller scale on campus.
- Every learner, regardless of age and background, upon joining a higher institution has two main kinds of need: to develop themselves and to belong to a community. A lot of times these two needs are seen as separate: class is class, campus life is campus life. We don't think so: With the support and challenge of the people around us, we develop and bring ourselves to contribute to our communities and more.
- One way to improve relationships among students and university administration is to transform the space that is often associated with administration into community space. It shows willingness to engage.
- We all need to listen better.
Open Call is an initiative to co-create a community space in my university Tufts. Themed differently every month, the space regularly welcomes members of the community who look for meaningful connections, learning and creativity. Right now, every week we have "playshops" on storytelling, listening, making arts, sounds - mostly as creative way to have conversations and shared experiences.
Community space is not a new idea. What is new is one that combines all three qualities: intention, attention and generativity. It serves the social and emotional component of education, beyond the functional of "just getting a degree"
What are the needs of tomorrow that higher ed can fulfill?
Tomorrow challenges will require looking at issues from multiple angles and building relationships across sectors. Currently, the silo-ed nature of the workforce is often seen in the narrow "not my problem" mindset.It is a the result of a long history of "specializing" industrial education system. Even in a liberal art college, students from different majors don't interact enough with each other. This leads to the mindset of "One": one (Right) Way of thinking, one Truth, one Solution.
The question is then "How might we design an environment to cultivate an openness to engage with new people, share perspectives and challenge each other's ideas?"