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Community Voices, April 2016

Earlier this month I was fortunate to gather together with college and university leaders from Minnesota Campus Compact, an association of colleges and universities dedicated to campus-based civic engagement, focused on developing students’ citizenship skills and forging effective community partnerships.

In honor of Campus Compact’s 30th anniversary, along with over 400 other presidents and chancellors from across the country, I have signed an action statement to recommit to SMSU’s role in advancing the public purposes of higher education. The statement characterizes our current commitments and names the ideals toward which we will work with renewed dedication, focus, and vigor. The statement reads as follows:

We empower our students, faculty, staff, and community partners to co-create mutually respectful partnerships in pursuit of a just, equitable, and sustainable future for communities beyond the campus—nearby and around the world.

We prepare our students for lives of engaged citizenship, with the motivation and capacity to deliberate, act, and lead in pursuit of the public good.

We embrace our responsibilities as place based institutions, contributing to the health and strength of our communities—economically, socially, environmentally, educationally, and politically.

We harness the capacity of our institutions—through research, teaching, partnerships, and institutional practice—to challenge the prevailing social and economic inequalities that threaten our democratic future.

We foster an environment that consistently affirms the centrality of the public purposes of higher education by setting high expectations for members of the campus community to contribute to their achievement.

These are commitments we make to each other with a recognition that our goals for a thriving and sustainable democracy cannot be achieved if we act alone—and that they cannot be denied if we act together.

Two different projects this past month involving our students bring me great pride and joy as they truly represent the ideals we are promoting through Campus Compact.  Graduate student Cole Wilson, wrote a grant to the Marshall Community Foundation to install a peace pole near the new pedestrian overpass on Saratoga Street.  The phrase "May Peace Prevail on Earth" is written in four languages on the pole — Hmong, Somali, Lakota and Spanish – representing four of the major ethnic groups in the Marshall area. The project was a partnership between the city of Marshall and the SMSU Offices of Diversity and Inclusion and Access, Opportunity, and Success.  Following the dedication ceremony last week, those two offices led volunteers on a ditch clean-up.

The second project that really impressed me was an undertaking by Cassie Mages, a student leader on campus. Cassie, a Resident Assistant (RA) in Sweetland Hall, was walking with her mother one day at the downtown Memorial Park. In the bricks surrounding the memorial are stars representing the lives lost in the 9-11 tragedy — 61 blue stars for police officers, 343 red stars for firefighters, and 2,596 black stars for civilians. They noticed the stars were becoming chipped and in need of some care. As part of the community service aspect of being an RA, she decided to gather some friends and re-paint the stars that needed a touch-up. This was a simple yet meaningful way of giving back to our community modeling the ideals we strive to instill in our students through Campus Compact that contribute to the public good.



Published in the Marshall Independent, Saturday, April 30, 2016

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