Recent world and national tragic events have prompted me to reflect on the responsibility of the Graduate School to reach out to those impacted by such events. And the importance of doing so for the individuals as well as for the broader graduate community.
Graduate Schools tend to be places in which graduate students from many walks of life, social identities, nationalities, and cultural perspectives exist within the university. A very diverse community which Graduate Deans should build to be more “inclusive” especially to counter the existing university culture of academic silos and lonely journeys through Graduate School. An inclusive community which can be characterized by understanding and caring.
Although valuable throughout the graduate education journey, an understanding and caring community is especially important in times of tragic events, political uprising and natural disasters. When these happen, the experience and impact of these events vary depending upon the particular connection of the individuals to the event(s). Not everyone responds in the same way or with the same emotions but the responses are real and deserved to be acknowledged.
Recent events within the past few months have definitely impacted the graduate community (and more) at Virginia Tech and beyond. Tragic events in Paris and Nice, Baton Rouge (2), Orlando, Minnesota and Dallas are but a few examples that have impacted the lives of VT graduate students and the communities with which they identify (e.g., black, gay, Hispanic, international, law enforcement and more). Reaching out to individuals from these communities directly (e.g., email), statements of support and information sharing via social media, in-person gatherings, and dialogue sessions are strategies that we have used here under our GLC Cares program.
In addition to understanding the individual impact, it is very important to recognize the value of the “learning” (teachable) moments for others in the graduate community. Even though the tragic events might be acknowledged within the university community, active engagement with the underlying issues (e.g., racism, terrorism) and impact upon individuals are often not. As Graduate Deans, I believe that we should to take the opportunity to create a space to encourage meaningful and relevant dialogue about the issues and events to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the world. In doing so, we can engage as global citizens in a world that so desperately needs greater cultural understanding and the willingness to communicate.
It seems a simple thing to do to reach out and engage with graduate students. It is and it’s so important.