Thursday, November 29, 2018

The Importance of Bring "Brave"

There were many great reflections by the four wonderful panelists at the Town Hall Forum on Fordham and the Bronx held two weeks ago, but the one comment that stayed with me the longest is when Michael Partis, FCRH 2008 grad and executive director of South Bronx Rising asked students to "be brave." Only by getting out of their comfort zone, only by taking chances, only by risking things which might lead some people to dislike them, could students change things, at Fordham and in the country, which they thought were wrong.
What made this remark so powerful is that it is something students are rarely told at Fordham or any other university. They are told to care about the suffering of others. They are told to work for justice. But they are almost never told to put themselves at risk, even in small ways, to make the institution they are part of serve the cause of justice better than it does now.
When Michael Partis said that, it helped me better understand how I have approached teaching this semester. Never have I done more unconventional things with students than I have this fall. I have taken them on walking tours of the Bronx, held a class at a beach, played golf and tennis with them, brought food in to class almost every week, introduced them to 
guest speakers ranging from a newly elected state senator to Regional Chief from a West African country, and invited them to have a class with, and then go to a party with, rappers, dancers and beat boxers from Paris and Berlin.. Tomorrow, I top it off with a full court basketball game and a dinner at a great Bronx restaurant "South of France."
Why have I done all these things? Part of it is that I have the most adventurous, intellectually curious group of students that I have taught in some time. But part of it is the demands of the moment. Our country is more divided than it has ever been, facing daunting racial and political conflicts, made worse by an acceleration of Climate Change that threatens the future of life on the Planet. If young people do not take action we and the world are in deep trouble
But telling them to take action, by itself, is meaningless. I need to provide an example of taking action, of breaking rules, of doing things that no one else dares do, things that bring joy, things that educate, things that build community. And that requires a little bit of "bravery."
So I am doing things that everyone tells me is crazy, ranging form inviting students to a dance party at my home to having a class which involves wading in the water at a public beach, to playing full court basketball with them
But if my students look at me and say "Naison is crazy, but he doesn't just talk the talk, he walks the walk", then my message
and Michael Partis' had gotten across.
You can't change an institutional culture without being brave, without taking changes
Thank you Michael Paris, for putting words, on something I intuitively understood, but couldn't articular with such clarity


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