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The fall of 2020 is a time of great flux as many students return to campus amid a pandemic and as Black Lives Matter protests have swept the nation. With the right approach, it can be a rich exploratory journey, as Dr. Joseph Stevenson writes. Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash.

‘Good Trouble,’ Bad Anxiety: Advice to Students, Faculty Returning in a Time of Flux

We are now actively engaged in a state of flux, an era of finding truth with no signs in sight of exiting from our lived experiences in sight. It appears we will be in this era of flux for some time, and whether we are  returning to campus classrooms or virtually online, we need to all put our thinking caps on and get ready for our cerebral journeys and cognitive explorations ahead. There will be an abundance of information to cover during this exploratory journey. 

My advice here is for returning students and faculty to the halls of higher education. It is about thinking ourselves through this era mindfully with demonstrable discipline, caution, concentration and clarity. A lot is on the minds of both students and faculty during this period of the widening pandemic, heightened prejudice, widespread protests and the increasing proliferation of information. By and with what we speak, how we dialogue, what we hear, when we listen, and where we see when looking around the chaotic world we live in will determine what we manifest. 

A word first about repetition, choices and evidence. When we hear or see someone of authority, stature, or prominence repeat something over and over again, it does not mean it is true. When we add more choices to our decision-making, it does not mean we will make the right choice. (See “The Paradox of Choice” by Barry Schwartz). In both cases, we should try to rely on vetted data and empirical evidence, especially scientific.

These days, our manifestations are faced with and confronted by so much information and data that can throw us off the needed balance to understand the complexities behind messaging language, lexicon, and vernacular from the seemingly overwhelming information and excessive abundance of data. Some of the data are factual, some false, some fallacy, some formidable, some frightening, some fake, some fiction, and some non-fiction. 

Herein is the challenge of critical and, often, crucial thinking in college—the cognitive campaign we push and pull from students in higher education because there is a lot of effluvium out there. Students should be informed from information they receive but not necessarily influenced by the information without careful critical thinking. The words that we use, whether they are “Black Lives Matter” coming from peaceful protesters or “Get Into Good Trouble” coming from the late peace advocate John Lewis, have emerged as both powerful and empowering to many who are increasingly feeling acute anxiety, angst, anxiousness, ambiguity or anger. 

The example of the late peace advocate, Rep. John Lewis, here with President Barack Obama, has emerged as both powerful and empowering to many who are increasingly feeling acute anxiety, angst, anxiousness, ambiguity or anger. Office White House Photo by Lawrence Jackson.

When I interact with college students who experience these feelings, I suggest that they “think-things-through-thoroughly-throughout” before they voice their opinion, protest their stance, advocate their position, practice their freedom of speech, stand up for their rights and catalytically forge ahead. I suspect, at the rate we are going, many of these human feelings expressed off campus in communities will be experienced on campus when students return this year or in early 2021. 

Higher education must be institutionally responsible, socially responsive, and enthusiastically ready to welcome students back to the campus with open arms. Students will likely feel the campus is the only place, unique environment, and safe space they will feel comfortable and free to speak, hear, and see with civic care for human decency, dignity and, most importantly, respect for diversity. 

Here are some guiding-thought principles to follow in our era of flowing flux for returning students, faculty, and staff amid the exploding information we are all getting from multiple sources, emerging dynamics and energies, and socially ignited stimuli:

  1. Before we face and confront potential adversity, problems, situations, conditions, circumstances, consequences or other challenges, we should examine the driving forces (or fluxes), counter forces and restraining forces amid our intensifying global challenges.
  2. Before we speak, let’s examine cause and effect and the systemic relationships in between—speak to seek.
  3. After we hear, let’s differentiate between fact, fiction, falsehood, opinion, speculation and conjecture—hear to listen.
  4. After we see, let’s determine accuracy, authentication, and completeness of information and data—look to see.
  5. During times we listen, let’s determine information’s originality, objectivity, subjectivity, author bias, political rhetoric or ideological agenda building.
  6. When we think things through, let’s contrast, blend, integrate, compare varying points of view and manage our cultural differences.
  7. As we think things through, let’s recognize faulty reasoning, malarkey, nonsense, codswallop, balderdash and illogical fallacies.
  8. After we think things through, let’s also define measurable next steps, strategies, outcomes, indicators, determinants and results for positive change.
  9. After we see and hear, and after thinking things through, let’s generate new alternative ideas, frameworks, innovations, concepts, protocols, paragons, paradoxes and paradigms for boldly stretching positive directions.
  10. Before and after we think, speak, hear or see, let’s explore the alternatives for solving problems, identifying social solutions and resolving social conflicts.
  11. After we focus on internal, investigative and introspective critical thinking, let’s integrate, surmise, and synthesize our thoughts to apply them most relevantly to our decisions and circumstances.
  12. Finally, when we contemplate information or gather data for our findings, let’s apply an academic practice of vetting, verifying, and validating from credible, refereed, scholarly and academic, or peer-reviewed sources.

A common form of dialogue between students and faculty in higher education is the historical Socratic instructional method, which can be helpful for navigating all of the above as the result of the probing questioning and answering process within this traditional teaching method. I recommend that this interactive dialogue about any of the above start with: (a) asking  profoundly challenging, open-ended questions; (b) build on these questions by asking “why” an “why not”; (c) develop bold ideas based on the questions; (d) interrogate the ideas with more continued questions and possible answers to inquiry; (e) repeat the questions to get alternative solutions from diverse viewpoints. 

Sometimes generating hypotheses and crafting alternatives can be stimulating for this learning process. In fact, and toward this end, generating student learning outcomes would benefit the students and the faculty. With all that is going on off campus externally throughout the world, the ethos, environment, and ecosystem right now, what happens on campus promises to be quite intellectually revealing, individually reflective and collectively rewarding for all within the academic community.

After all, education is where we seek evidence, search for transparency, try to substantiate truth and, for those who need to, apply critical thinking. Let us all welcome our students and faculty back from social distancing for social development of bold, new, fresh thinking for our uncertain future. As asked by our  gifted, beloved and dearly missed Congressman John Lewis, “what legacy will you leave behind?

This MFP Voices essay does not necessarily represent the views of the Mississippi Free Press, its staff or board members. To submit an essay for the MFP Voices section, send up to 1,200 words and factcheck information to [email protected] We welcome a wide variety of viewpoints.

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