DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Let’s Reason Together

Written by: on April 5, 2019

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.[1] 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.[2]

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.[3]

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.[4] 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.”[5]

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.

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[1] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (New York, NY: Pantheon Books, 2012). 127.

[2] Pete Wehner and Jon Haidt, Faith Angle, n.d.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Andrew Martinez, “When Being ‘Woke’ Is Not Enough,” Diverse, March 5, 2018, accessed April 5, 2019, https://diverseeducation.com/article/111381/.

[5] Erin Meyer, The Culture Map: Decoding How People Think, Lead, and Get Things Done across Cultures (New York: PublicAffairs, 2015). 88

About the Author

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Rhonda Davis

Rhonda is passionate about loving her Creator, her wonderful husband, and her three amazing sons. She serves as VP of Enrollment Management & Student Development at The King's University in Southlake, TX.

14 responses to “Let’s Reason Together”

  1. mm Rev Jacob Bolton says:

    “A humility that leads to learning that leads to wisdom…this seems to be a theme guiding us through the semester.” – Very sage Rhonda. Thank you!

  2. mm Karen Rouggly says:

    This is a great blog, Rhonda, and something I can very much relate to. I appreciated how you wove in your specific context at Kings. The middle is a hard place to be – and I agree that the faster you respond, the higher you rise. But you’re so right in that speed often doesn’t leave time for good survey talking. It reminds me of Simple Habits for Complex Times. Good work!

    • mm Rhonda Davis says:

      Thanks, Karen. It is difficult to keep from “spinning” rather than engaging when the pressure of time is great. I am often frustrated by the pressure from various stakeholders for immediate response.

  3. Mario Hood says:

    Great post and application here Rhonda. It seems that the more complex the world because and the ease in which information travels as leaders we need to re-engage in the humanness we all share. It seems the “approach” to whatever answers we have is more/as important as the answer itself. Thoughts?

    • mm Rhonda Davis says:

      I agree, Mario. However, as I said to Karen, there is high pressure from stakeholders for immediate response. Thoughtful dialogue requires security in our leadership and our overall mission. This takes time. I wonder if there is as much value on the approach in the current climate as there has been in the past.

  4. mm Sean Dean says:

    Perhaps you can answer a question I have. Are students coming in with entrenched political (in the broader sense) perspectives now? If they are that seems like it would make the whole process of engaging so much more difficult. I came into college with a set of beliefs, but they were still very malleable. I can’t imagine working with students that are already entrenched in ideas.

    • mm Rhonda Davis says:

      I would not say their views are fully formed, but they are entrenched in their opinions on political issues. Most often, they have taken on the offense of a particular person or group they find intriguing, and they are willing to go to battle for that person or group. Our job is to present the bigger picture, open their minds to the complexity of the problem, and offer a path forward through Scripture. Social media presents group-think problems in ways we have not seen before.

  5. mm Tammy Dunahoo says:

    Excellent post, Rhonda. Humility, childlikeness, curiosity and wonder seem to be the key. You and Andrea are on the same wavelength this week. It will require us to get off the screens, slow down and listen to connect. We certainly have the capacity if we lean into our humanity rather than technology.

    • mm Rhonda Davis says:

      Thanks, Tammy. Yes, I think we might be surprised by what could happen if we began to connect again on a human level. I sense rumblings of dissatisfaction among young leaders who are growing weary of pseudo-connection. I am so thankful God is always up to something bigger than us.

  6. mm John Muhanji says:

    Thank you Rhonda for sharing this and was particularly touched by this statement you made, “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.” This is another moral issue we are talking here. Teaching and learning creates a particular thing builds into a moral application. Creating room for the spirit to breath is nurturing as Jonathan calls it empiricist. Thank you for this strong words that adds value to Jonathan writings.

  7. mm Harry Fritzenschaft says:

    Rhonda,
    Thanks so much for sharing the struggles of student development in higher education. “A humility that leads to learning that leads to wisdom…” is wise advice in the university as well as the local church. I think it was Andrea who challenged us with curiosity and now you are challenging us to be humble. Thank you for your leadership and your wisdom.

  8. mm Rhonda Davis says:

    Thanks, Harry. Do you find this to be a prominent struggle as you coach leaders? Are there tools or practices you utilize to activate curiosity and humility in the life of a leader?

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