Our role in transformation

By Isabelle Chan, Shoko Takemoto

Throughout the opening events of the Institute for Global Citizenship, President Rosenberg emphasized the Institute’s commitment to create “global citizen leaders” who can “think outside the box” in order to tackle the challenges that undergird our complex world. Last Saturday, Secretary General of the United Nations and true global leader Kofi Annan reaffirmed these principles, stating that in our particular period in history, the world necessitates global citizens who will have the energy and the creativity to find innovative solutions to bridge the “local” and the “global” and solve the intricate and ever more pressing issues of poverty, human trafficking, environmental change, nuclear proliferation, and world security that challenge humanity.

On the whole, the Institute appears to acknowledge the need to think outside the box, to challenge and rethink the ontologies that define our society, and to call for innovative approaches that will create a more holistic learning experience of integrating multiculturalism, internationalism, and service at the college. In principle, we certainly applaud the Institute’s efforts of seeking to embody the elements of community, dialogue, and human engagement. In effect, like the Institute’s leaders, we recognize the urgency of interconnecting local and global experiences in order to instill in students and community members the realization that the world has become ever more interconnected today, and that with such transformations, new responsibilities towards one another have arisen. But in practice, we must interrogate the processes of creating and administering the Institute for Global Citizenship, holding it accountable to the very principles that it seems to advocate. For in our view, if we can’t even begin the discussion here and now, then how can we expect students as global citizens to tackle on the more global, complex problems that challenge our world today?

The Institute’s creation and administration call into question the very perpetuation of power structures and hegemonic modes of thinking that the Institute seeks to challenge. The concept of the Institute was developed two years ago by two notable figures on this campus, Professor Ahmed Samatar and Professor Andrew Latham, and according to the Institute’s website, has sought the advice and opinions of many individuals, including the Dean of Race and Ethnicities, the Dean of Multicultural Life, the International Center, etc., in its creation. But from discussions with some of these very individuals, too often, key decisions about the Institute were made without their consultation. In effect, we find misunderstandings over the issue of dialogue, representation, and inclusion that seem to be advocated for by the Institute’s founders yet that seem to be lacking in practice.

For those of us who are familiar with the contradictions that pervade Macalester, we cannot help but draw the conclusion that such misrepresentations and selective inclusion embody yet another Macalester contradiction and unsubstantiated effort in advocating for the common good of all based on the perceptions of a few. True, the Institute has held and participated in community forums where students and staff were invited to hear about the developments of the Institute. But from our experiences attending these events, there is a fundamental difference between providing a space for relating information and creating a safe space for open dialogue and diverse insights.

Before we conclude, let us be clear about our intent. We are not here to criticize the Institute and call for its riddance. The principles at the heart of the Institute are too significant to let these misunderstandings that trump such necessary efforts. Instead, our aim is to call for a re-thinking by both supporters and opponents of the Institute about the meaning of global citizenship and about the more inclusive process and methods that are required to make it work at Macalester. With Dean of Multicultural Life Joi Lewis and several `multicultural’faculty and staff such as, Prof. Marie Elena Cepeda, Rogelio Minana, Even Winet, Ramon Knox, and Brian Wagner leaving or have already gone, Macalester and the Institute have a lot of work to do if they want to uphold, sustain, and reify the notion of global citizenship into student’s daily reality. While these faculty and professors have greatly enhanced the academic and social life of students by giving life and new perspectives to this campus, we need to interrogate the conditions that have led them to feel that they can no longer work at Macalester. So let us begin this conversation about the state of Macalester and the vision of global citizenship with the basics of humility, respect, and openness in order to acknowledge that we do not all have the answers, and that a collaborative, collective decision holds more significance than one reached alone. Only after self-examination and self-reflection, can we truly move on to tackling the problems that challenge our world.

Contact Shoko Takemoto ’06 at [email protected] and Isabelle Chan ’06 at [email protected]