Fostering Empathy on Campus

I hope the beginning of 2016 has been a great one for you. There are some thoughts I would like to share about working with students and fostering empathy on campus.

Colleges across the nation, including Pomona, are being challenged to better grapple with inclusivity and institutional racism, and questions have arisen about the approaches we take and the lessons students learn. From the first days that students come to Pomona, we seek to engage them in these questions.

For all of us, and especially for college students, the space between who we are and how others see us can be vast, and the space between what we intend and what is perceived can be even greater. This is especially daunting when students first arrive on campus. But this should be a core part of what college is: To be free to make mistakes, and to be free to learn from them.

An article in The Atlantic magazine in part claimed that attempts to ask students and faculty to be mindful of their words, speech, and actions undermines the educational process. The argument suggested that students need to be tougher, not coddled. It decried attempts to call on students and faculty to reconsider speech or actions, which can be experienced by others as inappropriate, offensive, or hurtful — what may be called “micro-aggressions” – as actually hindering students’ personal and intellectual development because, in part, that is not the real world. In other words, it happens everywhere, just face it.

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