Thursday, November 28, 2013
November 28, 2013: Giving Thanks: Expanding Horizons
[A Thanksgiving series on some of the many things for which this AmericanStudier is thankful. Add your thanks-givings in comments!]
On one of the biggest challenges facing my university, and the office and person leading our efforts to transcend it.
I imagine that there are many universities across the United States struggling to increase diversity, to create a more multicultural, multi-ethnic, and generally multi-faceted student population—but the challenge feels particularly acute and salient at Fitchburg State University. Located in a city that’s significantly diverse—a city with the state’s first Asian American woman mayor, with sizeable Asian, Hispanic, and African American populations to complement numerous European American communities and heritages—Fitchburg State’s undergraduate population is (or was as of a 2011 report, at least) nearly 90% white non-Hispanic. It’s an amazing community of students, and a diverse one in many ways to be sure—but amplifying this cultural and ethnic diversity is certainly a real and meaningful goal.
There are of course numerous external factors in play, including many facing Fitchburg’s public schools (which would be a logical source for FSU students), and it’d be naïve to think that the university (or any single institution) could address those factors. But Fitchburg State has taken a very significant step, creating a number of offices dedicated to furthering this mission of diversification and, perhaps even more importantly, to providing support and community for FSU undergraduates once they’re on campus. At the top of that list would be Expanding Horizons, an office that helps recruit and support students from disadvantaged economic backgrounds, who are first-generation college students, or who are dealing with similarly challenging circumstances as they join the FSU community. And while the Expanding Horizons office includes numerous dedicated and impressive staff members, I’ve worked most closely with one, the office’s inspiringly passionate and committed academic advisor, Sarah Sadowski.
I’m thankful for Sarah and her efforts for lots of reasons, including the series of individual students in whose work and lives I’ve seen her contributions time and time again. But if I had to boil it down, I would say that Sarah, those students, and the Expanding Horizons program have done more than any other part of my community to remind me of why what we do matters, of the true and incredibly meaningful stakes of higher education. I know full well the numerous problems plaguing American higher ed, and have no definite sense of how (or even, to a degree, whether) we’ll move into the future successfully. But Sarah and her office remind me, with force and passion, that there’s nothing more important than what education can offer and mean, for individuals and communities and cities and nations, and so nothing better that we can do than contributing whatever we can to such an educational community. Happy Thanksgiving, Sarah!
Next giving of thanks tomorrow,
PS. Who or what do you thank?