The end of a year always makes me reflective, considering what I’ve learned from the past year and what I want to do differently in the new one.

I believe deeply that higher education will find that the social and emotional aspects of learning will become more and more critical to the successful serving of our students and our community than it ever has been before. In part this is due to the students themselves. Bringing a wealth of knowledge from life experiences and a wide range of cultures, our students have the opportunity to develop amazing understanding and communication across difference. In a country so deeply divided, this may arguably be the greatest gift we can offer our students in their learning. This requires that faculty share control in the classroom with students to interact and voice opinions and share experiences and ideas. This is a model very different from the traditional lecture-style classroom, and one that we need to embrace rather than fear. By modeling how to build bridges between students, how to listen and learn from their peers, we demonstrate that respecting multiple ways of knowing rather than valuing book knowledge above all else, will bring the perspectives and understanding that is much needed to solve today’s complex problems.

In addition to the amazing diversity of our student population, the environment in which they are living is also changing dramatically. Our students are learning within the context of a global pandemic, witnessing a racial pandemic as well as the destruction of our natural environment which feeds us. In his book, Beyond Entrepreneurship 2.0, Jim Collins writes:

“If the first two decades of the 21st century have taught us anything, it’s that uncertainty is chronic; instability is permanent; disruption is common; and we can neither predict nor govern events. There will be no ‘new normal’; there will only be a continuous series of ‘not normal’ episodes, defying prediction and unforeseen by most of us until they happen.”

As a land grant university, created to serve community, how can our teaching and research truly be of service to our community – local, national and global – when disruption and instability are the norm of the 21st century? How can we best prepare students to enter into a workforce and community that is dependent on the ability to adapt, collaborate, be creative and open to a variety of perspectives and approaches?

Sonya Renee Taylor writes in her book The Body is Not an Apology:

“We will not go back to normal, normal never was. Our pre-Corona existence was not normal, other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate, and lack. We should not long to return, my friends, we are being given the opportunity to stich a new garment, one that fits all of humanity and nature.”

Taylor’s description is powerful. Higher education has the opportunity to contribute to the stitching of this new garment, in how we teach and research in ways that serve the larger goal of creating a “normal” that truly meets the needs of all of humanity and nature. As a significant part of the huakaʻi of future leaders, higher education must strive to engage students socially with one another and their community, and engage them emotionally in learning that is meaningful and authentic. It is only then that we can truly fulfill our mission.

Brown, B. (Host). (2020, September 16). Brené with Sonya Renee Taylor on “The Body is Not an Apology” [Audio podcast episode]. In Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. Cadence13.