“Lawrentians defy definition,” the Lawrence University website reads “… there are some characteristics that all Lawrentians share. Foremost among these is intellectual curiosity. It demands active participation and collaboration with a community of professors and other students (that builds on the groundwork of Freshman Studies, a requirement of all Lawrence students). The result is the ability to translate ideas into action.” This is the great promise of one of the nation’s higher achieving academic institutions. The promise that, among other hungry young scholars, there is to be a found a sense of ability, of being able to walk confidently into the real world and enact powerful change. To learn and then to lead. Within the Lawrence community of professors and students, perhaps this promise feels like enough. But perhaps, often unmentioned on the campus where most of our imagined community spends their time, there is a common forgotten narrative, a question not asked often enough. What does the Lawrence community, a small institution harbored in petite Appleton, Wisconsin, owe to the larger nation in which it resides? What do we, as those training to become part of the “real world,” owe to that real world?
Just last week, Las Vegas experienced the deadliest mass shooting in history—barely a year removed from the last deadliest shooting in national history. Three category four hurricanes have landed in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Normalcy for many thousands were forever changed and altered. Yet during Monday’s class, I was cracking open Plato’s Republic, thinking more about the paper due on Wednesday and fearing the internal mourning that would ensue if I did not manage to meet with a writing tutor. In an environment where young adults are being trained for the “real world,” there is, strangely, a large lacking of involvement in the real world. Sometimes it feels more important to spend an hour locked in the library studying a painting reproduction than to find ways to respond.
Lawrence University can, and should, be more involved in national and community events, and it should be easier for students to access vehicles and platforms to be able to participate.
The very first step would be to provide news updates and constant education about national and community events. Lawrence does a tremendous job of maintaining email contact with students. Students are already engaged with their student email—a necessity in order to be successful on campus. In much the same way that the university provides weekly school newsletters and LU Insider Updates, the university would also be well-served to provide weekly news updates that include news from around the nation. Being a learner, being a leader, and being a Lawrentian begins primarily with learning. Lawrence owes its students not only an education in the arts and intellectual curiosity, but education on what continues to happen in the nation outside the Lawrence Bubble, and for there to be open dialogue and conversation within classrooms about events.
The second thing that Lawrence can do is to provide students easily accessible platforms to be able to contribute. Responding to the world isn’t always easy. In fact, to make a real, quantifiable difference sometimes feel impossible. But it can start with Lawrence providing access to hubs where students can engage and contribute, such as open dialogue with prominent local leaders. As an institution, more can be done to make it possible for students to contact local government officials about issues that matter, about social justice and community support, such as providing workshops or bringing community leaders to campus events more often.
Much of what can be done is small, but it is not insignificant. In effect, it is a reminder Lawrentians are a part of a much larger community, and classrooms are often forgetful that a much larger nation exists outside the Lawrence Bubble. It can feel difficult, or even impossible, to be a meaningful voice in the events of the world, but if nothing else, college is a powerful resource for learning how to be engaged. Training students to be leaders sometimes means putting away the arts and learning how to respond to what happens in the world outside of campus.