Education and social change act as focuses of Future Series conference discussion

Photo courtesy of Danielle Bongiovanni.

The second summit of The Future Series, “The Future of Society: Conflict, Culture, and Character,” was held at the Trustees Pavilion on Dec. 2. President Cindy Jebb invited Dr. Leslie T. Fenwick and H. Patrick Swygert to speak at the event.

Early discussion centered around the role of leadership in higher education during a time flooded with both integration and fragmentation. Fenwick, a professor and dean emerita at Howard University, discussed how she noticed a time capsule during a tour of Ramapo’s campus. She related this to the future of the college, emphasizing the fact that the demographic of recent U.S. population growth is primarily people of color.

“The young people that we are training now will lead that diverse future,” Fenwick said, and schools must adjust to support this “emerging reality.” She had been noted for her work as consultant to CEO at Action for Racial Equity, serving as a McDonald Character Leadership Conference Senior Fellow at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, and publishing many articles on subjects relevant to the summit. 

Swygert, president emeritus of Howard University and the State University of New York at Albany, emphasized the importance of changing teaching methods to give students the skills they will need for the future. "The lengthened shadows of our faculty are our students."

The conversation shifted to the speakers’ thoughts on how comparing the Black Lives Matter Movement to the first civil rights movement reflected generational differences. Now more than ever, young people are at the forefront of change together regardless of race, whereas before the movement was portrayed as Black people pursuing progress with the support of other communities.

This is backed by research from Brookings Institution, which indicated 54% of protestors were white, 21% were Black, 11% were Asian/Pacific Islander, 7% were Latinx and 8% were multiracial/other. Ramapo College, which has a majority white student body, hosted A College Colloquium on Race, Social Justice, and Representation this semester in support of social justice.

This diversity and intersectionality comes partially from increased connections through social media. Advocates are centering individuals who are marginalized, and this attitude is certain to be reflected in how this generation proceeds with democracy.

Jebb brought up the statistic that 44% of college students would take a job that makes a difference in the world over one that has a higher salary. The speakers discussed how liberal arts colleges should address this.

Swygert advised the students in attendance, “Follow your passion. Do not run away from your passion.”

Both speakers agreed that colleges should center ethics, interdisciplinarity, innovation and design in all subjects.

From there, attendees were invited to identify opportunities Ramapo community members have to develop social responsibility, and how those examples could help cultivate an organizational culture that seeks success by serving others. These conversations will undoubtedly continue beyond the event and shape the college’s future operations for the better.

Suggestions ranged from organizations aimed at students, including the Student Government Association and the Peer Facilitation Program, to resources run by staff to benefit those in need, such as the We Care Program.

The next edition of The Future Series will take place next semester, though a set date has yet to be announced. It will focus on the future of work, and students, faculty and staff are encouraged to attend.