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Spotlight on Walden // Apr 15, 2016

Continuing the Conversation: Social Change in a Period of Radical Transformation

For 45 years, Walden has been dedicated to preparing its students to serve as stewards and leaders of positive social change within diverse communities around the world. To further this mission, interim President Jonathan Kaplan convened a panel at the National Faculty Meeting held in Orlando, Florida, in January that included distinguished faculty members and a member of the Board of Directors to review and reflect how the world has been rocked by political and social unrest and change.

“It appears our global community has seen its social fabric tear at the seams,” said Kaplan. “As an indispensable university with hundreds of thousands of change-makers and other inspired individuals, Walden has a really important role to play in contributing to and advancing the ongoing social change discussion and debate at local, national, and global levels.”

The panel discussion, “Social Change in a Period of Radical Transformation: Walden’s Role,” touched on recent events, from protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City to the attacks at Charlie Hebdo headquarters in France and a cafe in Sydney, Australia, to the Ebola epidemic in Africa. Panelists also discussed strategies to support students in identifying opportunities for social change and in implementing effective strategies for social change, in response to increasingly complex issues.

Spotlight on Walden asked panelists Dr. Lisa Pertillar Brevard, Dr. Mark Gordon, and Dr. Iris Yob to further discuss their views on social change. Here, we share their thoughts.

In the classroom and in life in general, how do you bring well-intentioned individuals together who have opposing ideas about what social change means for one particular issue or initiative?

Dr. Pertillar Brevard: When differences arise, it is often helpful to seek and define common ground, while keeping the bigger picture in mind. What is the overall, common goal? Once the overall goal is settled upon, then the details of how to achieve such can be hammered out.

Name a social change agent, past or future, who you admire. What qualities, in your opinion, made that individual so successful in promoting change?

Dr. Gordon: Often, social change efforts are larger than any single individual. Organizations such as the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society are unique in the world. I admire them because they are international in their mission to protect the world’s oceans from poaching. They are responsible for saving countless whales and dolphins. They are an organization that is not afraid to take immediate action and to put themselves in harm’s way between illegal fishing and marine life. They are practical in their approach and are not afraid to risk their lives for what they believe in.

Social change often involves changing how people view and understand the world—and researching how to change it. How does Walden prepare students for the interpersonal aspect of social change?

Dr. Yob: From the research literature, we learn that the best way to prepare for the interpersonal aspect of social change is by having hands-on experience in social change projects in the real world. Discussing issues in class forums and writing about them tends to keep social change in the academic realm; doing something about them makes the issues come alive.

We learn from those we work with and for. It is hard to imagine that happening by just reading and writing about them. In a real project , students can learn how to listen, lead, follow another’s lead, be open to differences, be humble, and realize how our privileges can contribute to another person’s needs.

The good news here is that curriculum builders at Walden are introducing more and more practical projects as options into course learning activities and offering them for academic credit. This will better prepare our community members as agents of social change.

Watch the panel discussion to hear more from the faculty members, including their personal perspectives on social change, and how Walden is preparing students to become successful change agents.