Margaret Venable: Addressing current issues through education

Margaret Venable

I cannot fully express all that is in my heart right now.

Sadness.

Fear.

Worry.

It’s a deep worry, the kind of worry a mother feels for children, even those who are not hers.

I don’t have the answer for how to solve the civil unrest we are seeing currently following the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Tony McDade and others. It is a systemic problem with no clear solution, and it is dividing us.

I believe education plays a vital role in the solution to what we are facing in America right now, including the civil unrest and the pandemic.

Education teaches us how to listen, how to work together, how to solve problems.

When we deal with health issues, we educate ourselves on the disease while searching for treatment, cures and preventive measures, combining scientific methods and processes with compassion and concern for humanity. When racial tensions and violence erupt, we must seek to understand the systemic challenges that still exist in our society in order to address them effectively.

I believe more than ever Dalton State College is part of the solution. Working together with our community, Dalton State students, alumni and employees will effect positive and needed change.

Especially during times like these, the Dalton State institutional values define who we are.

This spring our employees articulated and reaffirmed core values — who we are as an institution and what we want students and the community to see in us. Those values include “opportunity and access for all,” “diversity and inclusion,” “commitment to service and collaboration” and “respect and collegiality.” We have embraced these values because we believe they are vital to develop leaders in this community, state, nation and world. They also help us ensure we are providing a safe learning environment with open dialogue for all students, no matter their background.

We must listen with the intent to better understand. We must also listen to each other with respect, collegiality and civility and recognize we do not know what the life experiences of others have been that shape their view of the world. We must be kind even when others are unkind to us.

And we must stand up for what is right, supporting each other and seeking solutions using our knowledge of history, politics, sociology, psychology and all the analytical reasoning we can manage.

Producing graduates who pursue service and leadership functions in our community is a critical role for higher education in general and for Dalton State in particular. Dalton State graduated approximately 480 students this spring. These graduates will pursue a number of career and life pathways. Many already are or will become parents. I am grateful for the contributions all our graduates and students make to their communities.

Our students can be part of the solution now and as they move forward in their chosen careers. Some will surely run for elected positions at the local, state and national levels. Some will choose careers as social workers or in other service fields such as healthcare or education. They will address change in our community. Many already are. Dalton State prepares young adults for an increasingly complex world.

Dalton State regularly hosts speakers and activities that challenge our students, employees and greater community to think deeply about complex issues. Even now, while we are socially distancing and working remotely, we continue to offer virtual events that take our students beyond their transcript of courses and grades as they pursue a well-rounded education. This fall, in whatever manner is necessary, we will gear up again to offer our students opportunities to learn about the experiences and perspectives of others.

We will challenge ourselves and our students to listen carefully and think analytically about the past, the present and the future they help create. And we will talk about current issues facing America.

Former President George W. Bush recently said, "This will require a consistent, courageous and creative effort. We serve our neighbors best when we try to understand their experience. We love our neighbors as ourselves when we treat them as equals, in both protection and compassion. There is a better way — the way of empathy, and shared commitment and bold action, and a peace rooted in justice. I am confident that together, Americans will choose the better way."

I believe education develops our empathy. It leads us to understand experiences and perspectives different from our own. With your collaboration and support, we will continue to learn together and create the world we want our children and grandchildren to inherit.

Margaret Venable is president of Dalton State College.

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