When I began my career in student development, I was excited by the opportunity to come alongside the university classroom to aid in the holistic development of the student. In my context of the Christian university, we had a lot of freedom at that time to discuss issues of character and justice. We were aware that our students had a lot to learn, just as we did when we were bright-eyed nineteen-year-olds emerging on campus life.
However, times have changed. Not long ago, I was attending the annual conference of the Association of Christians in Student Development, and I had multiple conversations with chief student development officers who were just short of begging their teams to remain in the field. Those once-engaged staff members who entered the field as new professionals, intent to draw out the potential they saw in their students, were leaving in fear of bringing unwanted liability to themselves and their universities. As news stories flooded tv screens and smartphones describing student affairs professionals being beaten and ridiculed on the green space in the middle of campus, they wanted out…especially those who were in Christian higher ed. The conversation centered around the idea that social media had offered more opportunity to identify and rally around a common enemy than to connect over points of commonality. Fear was high and hope was low!
After reading The Righteous Mind, I realized Haidt is doing quite a bit of work with the CCCU, especially in the student affairs space. I appreciate his desire to dispel fear and bring people together to learn from one another. In a recent podcast, Haidt explains that students are more fragile than they were even ten years ago, and colleges are adapting to this struggle in ways that are potentially unhealthy.
So much of this is about words, not even ideas. It is possible to express differences with ideas, but there are now so many trigger words that this must be done very carefully. So much of the protest and outrage on our campuses is caused by a single word.
Students are asking, “What helps me rise to the top?” as they craft 280-character personal brands on social media. Part of this difficult navigation comes from the pressure to be the first to identify any injustice or alignment with one of the “phobias” deemed unfit. The campus community is watching to see how quick the response is. The quicker you are, the higher you rise. This gives little to no time to hear one another and provide a thoughtful response. There seems to be little room for conversation from the middle.
I find this to be true as we research and implement a new leadership program for women at the university where I serve. Our students have diverse religious backgrounds and come from churches with varying views on women in ministry leadership, so it is important to take time to learn from people from all sides and allow for a thoughtful response, rather than going to battle over every word that seems contrary to our egalitarian position. In fact, we’ve found that people and organizations are much more willing to engage new ideas when we take a humble approach and allow time for discussion. Similar to what Meyer described in The Culture Map, we better serve our students when we “practice humility and test the waters before speaking up.”
I am grateful for Haidt’s challenge to better understand human nature. He reminds us that we have the capacity to be better. We have more room than we think. Let’s reason together, not just to argue in support of our conclusions, but to teach and learn. Let’s create room for the Spirit to breathe in our conversations, graciously disrupting the current climate.
A humility that leads to learning that leads to wisdom…this seems to be a theme guiding us through the semester.
 Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2012). 127.
 Pete Wehner and Jon Haidt, Faith Angle, n.d.
 Andrew Martinez, “When Being ‘Woke’ Is Not Enough,” Diverse, March 5, 2018, accessed April 5, 2019, https://diverseeducation.com/article/111381/.
 Erin Meyer, The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done across Cultures (New York: PublicAffairs, 2015). 88