College of William and Mary administrators and students came together with community members Wednesday night to discuss whether or not the College prepares students to change the world.
The lecture was the fifth installment of the campus conversation series, which was designed to focus on the challenges the College faces as a 21st century liberal arts university.
Panelists included Co-facilitator of the Student Environmental Action Coalition Caroline Cress ’10, Tom Fitzpatrick ’04 J.D. ’09, Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship Assistant Director Melody Porter and founder of 1693 Productions Adam Stackhouse ’04. Bailey Thompson ’09 served as the facilitator for this installment of campus conversation.
The panelists opened the discussion by sharing how their area of study or involvement at the College has equipped them to change the world.
“[The College] equips us with many tools,” Kirkpatrick said. “One of those is community. Because we are such a close community … we have a very high value on service.”
Kirkpatrick also listed the strength of graduates writing skills and opportunities for leadership as preparatory advantages.
“Because we are a relatively small school with way too many organizations, we have a lot of opportunity to be student leaders,” he said.
Cress said that Kirkpatrick was mostly right, but also spoke of some of the College’s shortcomings.
“The one thing I regret is the institutional side of the College, and not let[ting] me think as big as I would like to,” Cress said. “My experience here environmentally … putting sustainability on the map here … all of those fights were big. They were big fights for small things… it never asked me to think outside of the box … William and Mary needs to lead by example.”
Stackhouse also mentioned the positive effects of the Counseling Center, the Dean of Students Office and Earl Gregg Swem Library.
Thompson then asked the panelists if they felt there was a relationship between service and changing the world.
“There are a lot of students who don’t participate in what we would call traditional community service,” Stackhouse said. “The question is if William and Mary gave them what they need to change the world without the need to do service. I would say yes.”
“We need to start thinking about service in a broader sense,” Cress said. “While I think that William and Mary can prepare you to be successful without being involved in service you have to be involved in service in some sense of the word in order to change the world.”
Finally, Thompson asked the panelists to elaborate on what the College could do to improve the tools it gives students to implement global change.
Porter spoke about the need for greater support for student ideas.
“I have had so many conversations with students about what they want to do, and it’s huge,” Porter said. “I think that that is a struggle that we all face all the time, but I wish there were ways we could be more supportive to students who have these inventive ideas.”
Cress listed areas to which the College should devote more resources.
“Not to be blunt, but the College needs to step up and increase the diversity initiatives and the sustainability efforts,” she said. “I think a lot of the students have a lot more respect for the people who work here than the people who hire them. We also need to learn about sustainability. If we expect students to respect it in later life, we need to start teaching it now.”
Kirkpatrick also pointed out that students could make a greater effort to be involved and informed members of the Williamsburg community.
“We think about our relationship with the community in the whole three-person rule thing, but we don’t really think about our relationship with the community beyond that,” Kirkpatrick said. “And I think that sustainability and some other things would come from that.”
The next campus conversation’s theme is “Changing Understandings of Liberal Education.” It will be held April 2.