The United States is facing a crisis. We are bombarded with news stories of terrorism, police shootings, and racial tensions. Many of us shake our heads in dismay as we grab our cup of coffee, newspaper, and head off to work to start another day. However, the increasing struggles and inequality issues are hard to ignore and there, it could be argued, is the problem. We read the headlines in disgust. We condemn acts of police brutality and rampant gun violence. We support protesters standing up for injustices as we gather around the water cooler or meet for drinks after work. But, we never stop to honestly ask ourselves, are we doing enough as people? Do we pay attention to suffering, exclusion, or unfairness that we encounter daily? Or do we turn a blind eye because we’re too busy or believe it does not concern us?
Over the past several decades, our priorities as a nation have shifted. In 2012-2013, state and local governments, on average, spent the same amount on prisons as they did on higher education (approximately $71 billion). We spend billions of dollars on an ineffective reactive solution and little time, money, and effort in understanding and providing a remedy for the underlying cause. Our nation is slowly shifting away from nurturing hope for every citizen in favor of building narrow pathways of opportunities for the few to the exclusion of many. It is easier to ignore what is difficult to confront. We acknowledge the necessity of reform, but understand very little about the millions of people who need help the most.
Higher education has the chance to lead a campaign for hope and to foster an environment where ideas become reality. The idea that students raised in the perceived land of opportunity can access a quality, affordable education regardless of socio-economic status. The idea that students receive the support and knowledge necessary to prepare them for success after high school. The idea that education is attainable because it meets the individual needs of the student. The idea that the knowledge, skills, and abilities gained provide a pathway to meaningful employment. The idea that we confront a past filled with injustice, disenfranchisement, and inequality by acknowledging the effects of these views and taking actionable steps to learn from these mistakes. The idea of each person being responsible to demonstrate kindness to others. The idea of reaching for understanding instead of indifference.
It is easy to ignore issues that cause hurt and pain when they are not directly affecting our lives, but the truth is that as citizens, as people, it should impact us all. While the level of our impact will vary, we can all make the world a little better place for those people in our community, in our places of worship, in our workplace, and in our educational institutions by offering hope. We can confront the past and begin a dialogue that fosters a brighter future. We can create opportunities for hope by supporting those values that provide pathways for success instead of building barriers to a better tomorrow.
“The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong.” ~ Bryan Stevenson