Student Activism and Liberal Education: Faculty Engagement in Turbulent Times

Wednesday, January 25, 2017
8:30 AM–4:30 PM

The 2017 Pre-Meeting Symposium will focus on engaging faculty leadership in response to calls for racial and social justice on college campuses. Over the past year, students have protested systemic social justice issues ranging from racial inequities, renewed calls for freedom of expression, and calls for divestment of institutional funds. As campuses respond to voices of students, the need for liberal education becomes clearer, and faculty play a key role on campus as students examine their beliefs and question institutional policies and practices. This Symposium will examine how faculty have been and could be empowered to address these complex issues.


8:30–9:15 a.m.
Opening Plenary:
Reclaiming the Racial Narrative

Lynn Pasquerella, President, AAC&U; and Gail C. Christopher, Vice President for Policy and Senior Advisor, W.K. Kellogg Foundation

9:30–10:45 a.m.
Campus Perspectives
Panelists from institutions who have encountered student protests related to racial and social justice issues will discuss their campus climates, experiences, critical incidents, and their institutional responses—immediate, short term, and long term.

La Jerne Cornish, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies, Goucher College; Steven Volk, Professor of History Emeritus, Director, Center for Teaching Innovation and Excellence, Oberlin College; Leslie E. Wong, President, San Francisco State University

ModeratorKhaula Murtadha, Associate Vice Chancellor for Community Engagement, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis

11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m.
Round Table Discussions and Case Studies

Case studies provided by Fairfield University, Providence College and Vassar College

Vassar Case Study

Fairfield Case Study


Featured Round Table

"Three People Are Better Than No People": Students As Community Members, Activists, and Change Agents For Democracy,” Spoma Jovanovic, Professor of Communication Studies; University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Roundtable Resource Information

Roundtable Handout


12:15–1:45 p.m.

Luncheon Plenary
“Leaning into our Deepest Yes”: Finding Common Ground in Embracing Student Activism

Conversation with Christopher Tinson, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and History, and Jonathan Lash, President—both of Hampshire College

2:00–3:15 p.m.
Concurrent Sessions

Changing the Classroom Culture and Curriculum

Session 1:

As members of the academy, we are charged with preparing our students to engage in a diverse, global world.  But how do we prepare and equip our teaching faculty to do just that in the classroom?

This session will describe the Institute on Inclusive Teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University, including how participants engage in intergroup dialogue as practice for facilitating such discussions in their classrooms.  Presenters will describe the activities and strategies utilized to engage faculty in the exploration of modifying their curriculum to be more inclusive.  Attendees will learn about content areas covered during the Institute, as well as assessment strategies for assessing participant satisfaction and Institute effectiveness.  Additionally, presenters will guide attendees through experiential activities that will illustrate what participants in the Institute experience.  As a result of participating in this session, attendees will be poised to be successful in convening such an institute on their own campus.

Alena Hampton, Director of Student Experience; Idella Glenn, Director for Diversity Education and Retention Initiatives; Mary Shelden, Interim Assistant Director, Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies; Associate Professor, Department of Focused Inquiry—all of Virginia Commonwealth University

Session PPT

Session Exercise

Session Handout 2


Session 2:

As student activists nationally call for a new engagement with the curriculum and its capacity to teach race, power, and inequality, how do campuses re-imagine “diversity” requirements to better meet student demands? In particular, what are the key learning outcomes of a 21st century general education diversity requirement; what inclusive and publicly oriented pedagogies best achieve these outcomes; and how do we partner with faculty and especially students to boost the relevance and transformative possibilities of these courses? This seminar briefly introduces the University if Oregon’s multicultural course requirement as a springboard for discussion and models a creative brainstorming and storytelling process that institution is using to create campus-wide understanding and participation in its reform efforts.

Lee Rumbarger, Director, the Teaching Effectiveness Program; Lisa Freinkel, Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Studies; Sierra Dawson, Assistant Vice Provost for Academic Affairs—all of the University of Oregon


Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education: Effectively Tackling the Tough Issues of our Times

How do we help students talk about the critical issues of race, class, and gender?  How do we model ways to grapple with issues like racism, gun control, transgender rights and climate change?

Colleges and universities strive to be civil venues for the robust exchange of ideas on controversial issues. Campuses are one of the few venues where students can learn how to engage in the civil discussions required for a healthy democracy. As our campus communities become ever more diverse and national and local issues intensify, issues of power, privilege and identity are ever more likely to surface in those discussions.

Most academics and university leaders receive little training in effective ways to successfully engage students in these critical conversations.  In this workshop, participants will learn about several initiatives to help effectively engage students on these topics, participate in a brief difficult dialogue, and explore options for replicating the work.

Libby Roderick, Director, Difficult Dialogues Initiative; Associate Director, Center for Advancing Faculty Excellence, University of Alaska Anchorage; Kelly Maxwell, Co-Director and Lecturer, The Program on Intergroup Relations, University of Michigan

Difficult Dialogues National Resource Center (Website)

Session PPT

Handout 1

Handout 2


Institutional Responses to Campus Inequities and Challenging Campus Environments

Session 1: Comprehensive Campus Response

As the deaths of black males at the hands of citizens and police caused civil unrest in cities and college campuses across America in 2015 and 2016, Goucher College, a small liberal arts institution near Baltimore, Maryland had to face its own truths as issues of race and equity led to civil unrest and student protests during the winter of 2014/2015.  By creating a documentary about their lived experiences inside and outside of the classroom, students of color challenged administrators, faculty, staff, and fellow students to see Goucher through their eyes.  In this thought-provoking session, participants will view excerpts from the documentary, see a list of demands from the United Students of Color Coalition, and read samples from student publications as panelists describe the on-going efforts to effect change at Goucher and engage the audience in a discussion about what to do when students of color say, “No Damn More!”

La Jerne Cornish, Associate Provost for Undergraduate Studies; Janet Shope, Associate Provost for Faculty Affairs; Eric Singer, Associate Provost for International Studies-- All of Goucher College

Session 2: Campus Climate: An Inclusive Language Campaign

Contentious debates around free speech, language, and inclusion- particularly within educational settings- have been at the forefront of societal conversation in recent years. Campaigns at colleges and Universities that encourage campus members to “think before you speak” have been met with enthusiastic support as well as vehement resistance. Moreover, many of these campaigns focus solely on raising awareness through posters and online forums, namely social media. In an attempt to create a more sustainable impact, members of the Office of Diversity at the University of Illinois at Chicago designed a multi-faceted inclusive language campaign called “Words Matter!” Using UIC as a case study, we will engage audience members in discussing current challenges with implementing campaigns to promote inclusion faced by colleges nationwide and come up with strategies to navigate such challenges.

Charu Thakral, Associate Director of Educational Initiatives; Tyrone A. Forman, Professor, Associate Chancellor and Vice Provost for Diversity - Both of University of Illinois at Chicago


Campus Activism at the Intersections: Gender-Based Violence and LGBTQ Rights

This session will focus on LGBTQ rights and gender-based violence, and how student activists are engaging in these issues on campus and in connection with their multiple, intersecting identities. Faculty and staff can support (and are supporting) students by addressing these issues in meaningful, productive way. This session will highlight this work--at the curricular, co-curricular, and activist levels.

Erin Echols and Alejandro Covarrubias, Co-Directors of the Cultural Centers, University of San Francisco; Lindsey Collins, Department of History, The Nueva School


3:30–4:15 p.m.
Round Table Discussions—The Way Forward


4:15–4:30 p.m.
Closing Comments
Tia Brown McNair, Vice President, Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Success, AAC&U

Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation
The Symposium is part of AAC&U’s ongoing and longstanding commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusive excellence. In support of that work, AAC&U has joined with more than 100 diverse national and local organizations as partners in the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation enterprise, launched in January 2016, to help communities embrace racial healing and uproot conscious and unconscious beliefs in the hierarchy of human value.

The enterprise is a multi-year effort designed to engage local, regional, and national organizations in both the public and private sectors to explore historic patterns and structural racism, so that we may begin to identify both short- and long-term strategies for meaningful change across the country. 

“Colleges and universities must play a leadership role in promoting racial and social justice,” said AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella. “Individual and collective attempts to counter racism are often impeded by our society’s unwillingness to engage in a national conversation around rapidly expanding racial and economic segregation. We must begin to have these conversations on college and university campuses, recognizing that issues of diversity and inclusion must be at the forefront of public discussion and private debate every single day. Racial and social justice cannot be viewed as the responsibility of a single individual or group, nor the exclusive purview of a particular office. Instead, we must each work toward creating a learning environment where students can thrive free from the burdens of discrimination. As civil rights leader Barbara Smith reminds us, ‘the most radical step we can take is coming together’.”    


The Fall 2016 issue of AAC&U’s journal, Liberal Education, focused on the Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation enterprise, with particular attention to the role of higher education. All articles are posted online here More information about the enterprise is also available at