Don’t Miss Half of Your Davidson Education

Marcos Balsera ’19

What if I told you that most students are only getting half of their Davidson education? 

Although Davidson’s academic value is clear and indisputable, our Statement of Purpose suggests another goal of equal importance: (1) “to assist students in developing humane instincts and disciplined and creative minds for lives of leadership and service”; (2) “Davidson challenges students to engage in service to prepare themselves for lives of growth and giving.” 

Both emphasize the institution’s commitment to preparing and supporting students in developing a socially-conscious and responsible value system rooted in our academic and student experience. Leaving Davidson without prioritizing community means choosing to receive only half of Davidson’s value, which, sadly, could be happening to a lot of students.

The residential nature of our institution, the personal connections with faculty and staff, and the liberal arts focus of our studies are aimed at educating us on the potential impact that our actions can have in the world. And the microcosm that we often refer to as the “Davidson Bubble” provides an opportunity for us to practice these humane instincts, with the support of experts that can be there to catch us and guide us. 

Yet, as is exhibited in the ways in which we interact with each other, students often fail to take the risks to do so, choosing the path of least resistance. When searching for students to take positions of leadership in difficult positions, I often hear the all-too-familiar adage that change is impossible. 

Although this pattern sounds theoretical, we see it on campus every day. 

When asking students to support their fellow students by intervening in potentially dangerous situations (think mental health, sexual misconduct, or risky behaviors regarding substance abuse), I hear my fellow classmates allude to niceties: not feeling it is their place or that they would intervene if it reached a dangerous point (a student showing extreme signs of depression or anxiety, sexual assault, or someone throwing up in their bathroom due to overintoxication). 

And finally, when asked to use their privilege to promote the work of marginalized communities, or to break down the systems that oppress these same communities, we might be confronted with silence, a slew of excuses, or only voices of these same marginalized communities advocating on their own behalf. 

The result is that not being a member of a group often excuses students from feeling responsible on that group’s behalf. 

Allow me to preface this by saying that I do not mean to erase the work being done by some members of our community that have taken it upon themselves to embrace this part of our education wholeheartedly. 

But, these individuals are by no means the majority of our student body. The end result is that the work that could be spread out amongst all our peers falls on a few. This leads to burnout, inefficacy (because one person cannot hold down the fort), and a void when that person graduates. 

Think of the possible impact that 2,000 students could have if they invested in being stewards of their institutions, looking for ways to protect and promote each other. 

For example, in a party of 50 people with two very drunk individuals engaging in potentially dangerous steps that might end in some sort of non-consensual act, the responsibility is on the entire 50 to intervene and check in on them. This takes courage, a certain degree of risk-taking, and a whole lot of empathy. 

But aren’t we being trained and educated on the ways that we can courageously take leadership roles and risks for what we believe is right? And more importantly, are we not being asked to develop this empathy for human beings regardless of our level of connection with them? 

Some of you reading might argue that you don’t have the training or courage to step up. That is okay. Students around us are already providing leadership opportunities, trainings, and workshops to help develop our commitment to mutual responsibility. 

We can learn from those that know what to do, ask for their help, and then take it upon ourselves to then take on the work next time. Conducting personal research, academic inquiry, and fostering personal relationships with others enable us to see beyond our own personal spheres.

The problem is that we have become so comfortable being comfortable, discussing theoretical solutions to real problems while too afraid to act or too disengaged to show up. 

Here is my ask: fight past the apathy and fear of a lower GPA (because, yes, this might be time-consuming) and engage in the other half of your education, which is to develop those “humane instincts.” Think bigger about the communities you are responsible for and be creative about the ways in which you serve them.

Marcos Balsera ’19 was a political science major from Miami, Florida. Contact him at mabalsera@davidson.edu.

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