Today kicks off a series of conversations with campus leaders — all of whom are educators at heart — about the roles they believe women can play in educating for democratic citizenship. When I initially asked this question I did not have explicit civics lessons in mind. Rather, I wanted to hear, in women’s own words, what they promote, support, inspire, teach, and model as leaders and whether they feel they have a role in educating citizens. At Dominican University of California, the women-led leadership team models communal leadership, mutual support, authenticity, and bravery. President Pitchford is willing to say even the hard things…perhaps especially the hard things, for as she reminds us, education is political, and requires opening up and speaking out.
tl;dr: “Changing the world – changing the civic existence – is completely central to what this university does.”
The episode at a glance:
>>01:28. Twitter can be a cesspit. But Nicola Pitchford’s tweets are balm for the soul.
>> 03:44. Be still my heart! A college president who publicly shares her intention to create a joyful campus culture.
>> 5:00. What is it that women leaders on college campuses believe their role is in educating for citizenship? Nicola’s passion for Dominican is rooted in her commitment to the same kind of liberal arts education she received as an undergraduate — a model developed for the American elite — being delivered to, and collaboratively with, a student body that looks like the demographics of California, and therefore the future demographics of the United States. (Dominican’s profile includes 70% BIPOC students and 30% Pell-grant eligible students.)
>> 08:52 Nicola shares her use of citizenship with a lower-case “C” as a way of expressing her commitment to ensuring that an education for democracy and civic engagement is available for all students, regardless of legal status or voting rights.
>> 09:49. The Dominican Experience is designed to be an equity engine to fulfill the promise of US higher ed. Its four components are wrap-around mentoring, an extended signature work, a reflective digital portfolio, and civic learning outside the classroom.
>> 12:08. “Changing the world – changing the civic existence – is completely central to what this university does.”
>> 16:46. Dominican is committed to student-centered voter engagement, including being one of the first hosts of College Debate ’16, a partnership with the Commission on Presidential Debate. College voting and registration rates are now well above national averages.
>> 18:33. Dominican University of California is majority-women which is typical of higher education institutions. It is also majority-led.
>>19:09. Learning through service is engrained in Dominican’s culture, making it natural for students who are interested to move into engagement with electoral politics.
>> 20:44. Nicola and I discuss discuss “service learning” — the tension between paternalistic “helping” and “learning in service,” and how powerful it is for students who undertake service with the goal of learning.
>> 23:49. Here’s a small and useful digression into how a women-led institution models democratic tenets for the whole community, and also how Nicola herself came to care about ensuring that “lower-case-C” citizenship is a way of life. Spoiler: creating a culture of collaboration not competition, with a dash of vulnerability and student-inspired authenticity. This includes talking to the campus about things that are painful, even if they’re happening on the national stage and not in the institution’s back yard.
>> 30:47. For institutions of higher ed, there is not the luxury of saying we don’t engage in controversy. We are political in the very nature of what we do: To educate is political. In a weak educational system, democracy will weaken.
>> 32:17. Growing up in the UK, Nicola grew up in a time and place when being political was what everybody did. Nicola reminds us that “education is political” is not a dirty word.
>> 32:59. Nicola recalls Martha Nussbaum’s position that the centrality of liberal arts education to strengthen and enable democracy. Nicola agrees: “What we teach is the entanglement of all things, and we teach how to maximize personal agency. And those two things are… that’s politics.“
>>38:27. What do we do as women higher education leaders between now and the mid-terms, and now and the presidential elections? Encourage students to vote, to register to vote. Make it an explicit campus-wide effort. And connect voting to the learning and community-building they’re experiencing in class. Help students enact that commitment. Remove barriers to voting — provide transportation, cancel classes, etc.
Learn more about Nicola and Dominican:
Nicola on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NJPitchford
Visit Dominican on the web at www.dominican.edu
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