Pre-adults. That’s who and what they are. When they enter our classrooms, many of them have never formed an independent thought of their own. The tapes that play in their heads that inevitably shape their interactions are created by parents, teacher, churches, and yes, our culture. Their lives are a culmination of enrichment courses, parental demands and angst, and standardized tests designed to get them into the college. They are so programmed when they hit our doors that it takes almost 4 years for them to really start figuring out what kind of ice cream they really like.
Our students sit in a middling place that is as promising as it is dangerous. They are old enough to drive cars; travel abroad; and use a credit card but they are not mature enough to always understand the consequences of driving too fast; failing to heed warnings of staying with the group; or predatory interest rates. They are high school students whose acne is just clearing up; who can buy birth control on their own, and sleep in on Sundays instead of being bothered with church. They miss more deadlines than they make; They still cry when they are hurt; and just like any 5-year-old they just want someone to hold their hand and be their friend.
Sadly and often tragically, unlike high school, they find out that one bad night; one stupid decision; one wrong turn can lead to life changing consequences. However, when done right and when at all possible (barring criminal behavior) the University and its professors can shine a hopeful light and offer an opportunity to begin again anew.
Perhaps this is why the situation at OU saddens me so deeply. Because rather than confronting, challenging, AND teaching; a college community merely washed their hands and decided that their students were beyond redemption. While Bob Stoops and President Boren were making the heroic rounds as defenders of civility, in my humble opinion, they missed a wonderful opportunity to teach their students how to live, disagree, and unite as a civil community. They perpetuated our society’s Hunger Games philosophy of total annihilation- blame them, shame them and erase them.
Here are four key teachable moments from the classroom of OU/SAE that I believe were missed:
Moment 1: Outrage=Hypocrisy.
Moment 2 Racism is a congenital heart condition:
Moment 3: The best way to deal with a racist is to show them the dissonance in their lives.
Moment 4: It is all about outcomes.
Dr. King’s most enduring premise was that while laws could give us the right to go to school and eat at the lunch counter together, only the Gospel of Jesus Christ could heal the heart condition known as racism. Dr. King’s work was grounded in the crazy idea that without the transformative power of the Holy Spirit meeting us in the convicting rooms of our own consciousness, our efforts to live in true fellowship would be hollow and half-hearted. Such conversions happen in conversations–not yelling, not screaming, but in a sincere desire to listen and be heard. Our knee-jerk reactions to the subject of race reveal our great discomfort with real conversation regarding how this sad legacy continues to affect us all. There is a time for marching and there is a time for conversation. This was a time for conversation and intervention. By expelling these students, OU made it easier for them to hide and to avoid the real mid-term exam of their lives.
Look, I know it is easier just to be done with these students. Bashing them is incredibly popular and dismissing them from the island of humanity appears to be all the rage. Unfortunately, I am called to the two most idealistic professions—teaching and preaching and I believe in the power of conversion. I believe in the power of Grace. I believe in a God of Second Chances. I believe in a God who is a master teacher.
I know. How silly of me.
Maria Dixon, MDiv, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Communication at the Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.
She is an academic, consultant, and theologian that believes that strategic communication is at the heart of every successful endeavor. A self-described “vocational mutt”, she holds a BS/Marketing from the University of Alabama; Masters of Divinity and Masters of Theology from Candler School of Theology/Emory University; and a PhD in Organizational Communication from the University of Missouri-Columbia.
This piece was reprinted by EmpathyEducates with permission or license. We thank the Author, Professor Maria Dixon for her kindness, her reflection, her belief in empathy and the veracity that we share “strategic communication is at the heart of every successful endeavor. ” We could not be more grateful.