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Foundational Reflections

Student Success Small Colleges and Universities Division
January 11, 2017 Corey Landstrom Luther College

Each month, I write a post for my institution’s parent newsletter. I often spend the entire preceding month seeking ideas, stories, and other pieces of information that may be helpful for parents to review. I find that I often marinate on my ideas until that deadline driven magical moment when all my thoughts are ready to be keyed out in a relatively fast and furious time of clarity.

With this month’s SCU blog post, I was marinating for some time about what I might write that could be helpful to the network, to you. My ideas swirled and I landed on an approach that included key transferable lessons drawn from my career. I thought it may be helpful to those about to begin their careers, relatively new in their careers, and those of us who are more seasoned. How we arrived at our respective todays depends greatly on our how we have applied our gifts, talents, and strengths and reflected on the mentoring, guidance and support we received along the way.

Our work has import no matter what position we hold or where we are in our career. If we slow down to take notice - to listen, to see - we can truly discern how we can best bring our greatest skills and insights in support of our students and communities. A former dean offered compliments to me early in my career. She appreciated my student-focused approach and encouraged me to never lose sight of that quality regardless of how difficult it may be at times. I take her compliment and advice to heart daily.

It is with that advice in mind that I discarded my original writing for this post. Adaptability had a little to do with it as did my ongoing post-election reflections and observations of how our campus communities have been processing the results. This post-election atmosphere is an extension of our overall civic environment and the difficulties society has had to reconcile, forgive, and work together to solve our most challenging and vexing problems.

This summer, I visited the library at my alma mater to find a letter to the editor I wrote during my senior year in college. I began reviewing the student newspaper from the first month of the year via microfilm. I read through seven months of the paper before I discovered my letter published in March 1990. It was an interesting step back into yesterday. I was challenged by what I saw in the paper. I read about sexual assault and rape culture, financial issues and challenges, and issues about which my letter focused, equity and inclusion.

I paused for several moments as I read through articles and the letter I wrote after seeing racist graffiti in a campus restroom. Here I was reading about issues and concerns from the 1989-90 academic year that are not dissimilar today. I asked myself, how is it that we still face these challenges? How is it that our campus communities continue to reel from the harms caused by violence - physical and emotional? How do we attend to our student’s most core needs of safety? Have we failed as educators, leaders? These questions and more swirled as I sat at the microfilm table.

I have worked at five, residential liberal arts colleges. At each, I have found myself supporting students and working with them (and colleagues) to restore harms that have occurred. At times this has been in a one-to-one situation or with small groups and at others it has been part of a broader campus coalition. In such moments I have leveraged my strong feeling preference associated with being and INFP but I have also developed the capacity to employ a more logical approach to address such challenges. This became especially true later in my career. I need both the emotional and rational to effectively navigate complex situations and find solutions something I trust we all do.

Our campus communities are reflections of our greater society. Our students, if U.S. citizens, have grown up in an environment where working across the aisle is a lost political art. Walking across differences to solve problems is a skill that has been de-emphasized or ignored. Argument, debate, and the pursuit of truth are cast aside in favor of demonizing the other. We have been in constant war. These waters have become onerous to navigate in light of the immediacy of 24-hour cable news and social media. 

We champion the will and determination of those who fought hard to get to our doors and who then proceed to make the most of their time in our community. We celebrate the success of students who excel in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges. We see moments where the promise of education is realized and where it has yet to be. We find ways to illuminate and appreciate how our different lived experiences inform how we live, work, and study together. During times where our community’s values have been breached, we lean on our mission and values.

These are in part, our contributions to form a more perfect union and influence more than the United States. This is not easy; it never has been. Our understanding of and appreciation for multiple and complex identities has expanded while at the same time we have not reached the finish line. Today, more students (and professionals) are able to live and work authentically in ways not possible twenty years ago. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” I have been witness to this bending across five institutions over twenty years. Looking back, the key moments where true hope has been cultivated have been in relation to positive and meaningful change.

When I was sitting at the microfilm table at my alma mater, my emotions mirrored those of my 21-year old self who wrote the letter to the editor. I was angry. However, I found the power of perspective as I reflected. I saw how critically important it is to keep the long view in mind. We work in environments consisting of short cycles - semester, academic year, generation of students, etc. When we miss an opportunity for meaningful and necessary change, we may need to wait for the cycle to complete. Our communities have high expectations and transformation requires a patient, tenacious commitment. I see such commitment every day from students. In this uncertain, post-election environment students provide the hope for our collective future ­– just as they have for years.