The leading theorist on retention, Vince Tinto, has persuasively argued that “involvement, or what is increasingly being referred to as engagement, matters.” Creating essential conditions that promote students’ active involvement with each other and with faculty are key to retention and success. Another leading theorist, George D. Kuh, has also spoken about the importance of student engagement. Similarly, the research findings of the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE) are unequivocal: “Student learning, persistence, and attainment in college are strongly associated with student engagement.”
Cultivating compassion in our students, with its attendant virtues of curiosity and empathy, is key. Philosopher Martha Nussbaum has written extensively on the kind of education we need to provide students for this global age: “An education based on the idea of an inclusive global citizenship and on the possibilities of the compassionate imagination has the potential to transcend divisions created by distance, cultural difference, and mistrust.” Her thoughtful framework advocates for an engaged, multicultural education infused with “human development.” Nussbaum suggests three crucial capacities of a responsible, globally minded citizenry in a pluralistic democracy: critical thinking, the ability to bridge and understand different cultures and religions, and the ability to imagine the situations of others and sympathize actively with them.
Further supporting the emphasis on empathy, an important component of intercultural engagement should be interreligious understanding and engagement, especially in our country which is the world’s most religiously diverse nation, and on our campus which increasingly mirrors our national multi-faith society. The Pluralism Project at Harvard University provides an excellent paradigm for energetically engaging religious diversity. Its director, Diana Eck, distinguishes between “diversity” and “pluralism,” noting that “mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.” In contrast, “pluralism is the encounter of commitments. It means holding our deepest differences, even our religious differences, not in isolation, but in relationship to one another.”
Another compelling framework that can inform the work of the SU&IC is provided by the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement in its 2013 report, A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy’s Future. The Task Force contended that “the competencies basic to democracy cannot be learned only by studying books; democratic knowledge and capabilities are honed through hands‐on, face‐to‐face, active engagement in the midst of differing perspectives about how to address common problems that affect the well-being of the nation and the world. Civic learning that includes knowledge, skills, values, and the capacity to work with others on civic and societal challenges can help increase the number of informed, thoughtful, and public-minded citizens well prepared to contribute in the context of the diverse, dynamic, globally connected United States.”
By creating a more deliberate space in SU&IC for student leadership training, leisurely activities, study places, orienting students to our campus and directing them to the resources, intercultural and interreligious engagement, and civic learning and democratic engagement we will strive to fulfill a vision of “Engaged Kingsborough” for every student.