Welcome to the new Liberal Education, a reimagining of the original Liberal Education that incorporates the themes of AAC&U’s now-retired journals, Diversity & Democracy and Peer Review. The creativity of the design reflects our shift from a journal to an engaging magazine offering in-depth features and short informative takes—all on a mix of topics integral to AAC&U’s work. We aim to bring you thought leadership on the challenges facing higher education, as well as practical hands-on ideas for grappling with those challenges and readying students to succeed in a rapidly changing world.
When we began developing this publication, we never imagined that we would launch the inaugural issue during a global pandemic, a moment of racial reckoning, and a time of heightened uncertainty— politically, socially, economically, and environmentally. But the difficulties of this moment underscore the importance of liberal education and the information and insights we work to bring you in these pages. As Ahmed Bawa says in our cover story, in which eight educators talk about serving students and fostering racial healing as the pandemic continues, “The virus is just a spark—the conditions required for the pandemic to explode were already here. Campus leaders must think deeply about how they deal with the short-term crisis, because those solutions will have significant implications for the way in which universities relate to society down the line.”
The entire issue—including new departments we’re excited to bring you—grapples with the challenges of the current world reality. With 80 percent of 2,086 college students surveyed in April by the nonprofit Active Minds reporting that the pandemic was adversely affecting their mental health, we decided to use our new Research Corner, complemented by two related feature articles, to take a deep dive into student well-being as campuses continue to face the challenges posed by COVID-19. While improving student mental health was already an area that required more attention from higher education leaders before the pandemic, the stress, uncertainty, and disruptions caused by COVID-19 have made clearer the need for improved resources for well-being. In her story on counseling Arab American students, Souzan Naser argues for ensuring campus counselors are trained to work with students from a diverse array of backgrounds. In another article, Linda Yaron Weston describes her for-credit course on mindfulness and how it teaches students tools that can help them better handle the stress of academic studies, as well as life more broadly. As one student wrote in reflecting on how the course has helped her cope with the pandemic, “Rather than worrying about what could happen and expending energy on stress about things I cannot control, mindfulness has taught me to enjoy the days that I do have with my family and make the most of the additional time I’ve been given.”
Other articles look at considering academic freedom along with diversity, and bringing students, police, and community members together through storytelling. The authors of the Advice section point out that to make progress on diversity and inclusion, administrators need to listen to and work directly with faculty, students, and other community members, focusing on building trust and cultivating respect. And in her Student Voice essay, a Spelman student has a message for educators everywhere: teach more Black experiences.
All these issues, heightened amid the pandemic, also collectively remind us with increasing urgency of the importance of educating for democracy. As Nancy Thomas points out in her interview with us, “We are witnessing a stunning example of the argument over federalism and states’ rights. Who makes the decision about wearing masks in an era of COVID? We want individuals to decide to wear masks because they feel a sense of responsibility to each other as members of a community. Yet too many people need to be told to wear masks, advice that many elected officials refuse to give. The combination of a lack of clarity on who’s governing and the idea that we are a nation of rugged individualists is causing this pandemic to grow. It’s a tragedy, but it’s also a teachable moment.”
We invite you to read on and engage with the ideas within these pages. Send us your thoughts about the articles, questions for the Advice section, topics for our new Reflections department, and proposals for future articles at [email protected]. We look forward to hearing from you.
Photo illustration by Paul Spella