By Ashley Fitch Blair, Faculty of the Year, Assistant Professor of Communication Arts
Twenty-five years ago, I set foot on Union’s campus as a wide-eyed freshman. A typical blend of Gen X arrogance and insecurity, I had no idea what a formative role Union would play in my life. I studied under mentors whose influence can now be experienced in my classroom. I met the love of my life who can now be found teaching down the hall. I began investing in a place where I have now spent more than half of my life. Union is part of my DNA, and I am part of hers.
Many aspects of Union have changed over the years, but the desire to love God with our minds, to create a robust learning community and to reclaim the Christian intellectual tradition remain constant. These ideals are appropriately aspirational, academic and Christianly, but what does that really mean? How do we create community where every classroom is a sacred space, every desk an altar?
Be humble. There is so much credibility to be found in humility. This is important as we engage both content and community. So often when academic endeavors are difficult, we look outward instead of inward. As students, we question the material or the way it is presented instead of questioning our own presuppositions and abilities. As faculty, we focus on control instead of embracing the “learned uncertainty” of true scholars. But with humility we can create what Joseph McDonald calls the “wild triangle” where professors, students and content are all continuously shifting points that together create more insight and learning than one point alone.
Be present. As Americans, we focus on the future. We focus on the goal. We focus on what’s on our phone instead of what is right in front of us. To be present requires we embrace the process—not just the goal. To be present requires us to step away from distraction and truly be focused on this time and this place. When we focus on the minimum of what is required to reach our goal, we miss the joy of what else might be possible. Being fully present enables us to create something far richer and deeper, an academic experience that cannot be replicated by simply reading a book or watching a video and taking a test. How would our academic experience change if we approached each assignment, each discussion, with this question: What value can I add to this experience that will benefit our learning community?
Be bold. An authentic learning community is strengthened when we are bold enough to love, to challenge and to fail. Fear of making ourselves vulnerable keeps us from all three. Especially as Union weathers a season of change, it is important that we not fear conflict, but with conviction and civility ask hard questions that can ultimately strengthen our community. As students and faculty in the classroom, we should take risks to improve our learning experience even if it involves occasional failure. We can create a community where this is possible if our actions are grounded in bold and authentic love for one another.