Choosing to embrace discomfort

By President Shirley M. Collado, December 18, 2019
The close of the calendar year is a good time to reflect on the promise of Ithaca College, and how we realize that promise by centering students—in moments that both affirm us and challenge us as a community.

Earlier this month, students in our theater department engaged in powerful activism around their classroom experiences, sending an unequivocal message that they will no longer accept a campus climate that allows hurtful and derogatory words and behaviors to go unchecked. In the halls of Dillingham Center, a manifesto was posted on the walls, calling for new practices that show and implement a commitment to an equitable and diverse environment. Sheets of paper accompanied the manifesto, filled with student accounts of racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, ableism, and sizeism.

My senior leadership team and I walked the halls, bearing witness to the students’ statements. Their honest and brave dialogue claimed space and visibility, and demanded action, accountability, and responsibility on the part of the college and our campus community. 

When we are confronted with moments that hold up a mirror to who we are and where we have fallen short—whether these moments happen on campus or in our greater communities—there is tremendous strength to be found in embracing the discomfort and sitting in that space fully and openly, regarding it as an opportunity.

Engaging from this perspective enables us to use challenges as pivot points that prompt us to mobilize necessary change. This becomes a lever to help dislodge the destructive thinking and habits that compromise the future and prevent us from healing ourselves, our communities, and our planet.

A group of women stand together

Our third cohort of BOLD scholars continues to realize the promise of their intergenerational, inclusive work to challenge our communities around issues of difference and exemplify what the next generation of leaders is capable of.

Leading the Way

I was incredibly inspired to see that Greta Thunberg was selected by Time magazine as their Person of the Year. For me, she is an amazing example of the transformative power of youth leadership. Her relentlessness and her unwavering commitment to driving change is not only an example for her peers, but a wake-up call for those of us from generations that came before.

I see that same tenacity and spark frequently on this campus, not only in the student action last week, but in the fearlessness of our many passionate students who are stepping confidently and authentically into the role of change agent. Students who are reevaluating received wisdom by forging new paths and new ways of being in the world—and asking us to see them and support them as they move forward.

Students Are Our “Why”

With the launch of Ithaca Forever, our new strategic plan, we have boldly set our intention to position our community and our college as a fully student-centered environment. As we have said many times, “our students are our why.”

a young woman stands and looks to her left

Maria Bushby ’20 has been named a 2019 Newman Civic Fellow by Campus Compact. Through her involvement with Ithaca College’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity and local organizations like Second Wind Cottages and the Ithaca Rescue Mission, Maria has become a student leader in efforts to alleviate homelessness in Tompkins County, New York.

As we press pause in the middle of the first year of our plan’s implementation, it is a good time to really dig into what that means. With students as our “why,” we as an IC family acknowledge the promise of the future—and think strategically and globally about our role in creating it.

With students as our “why,” we state firmly that we will serve the public good, because our work to support young people at crucial, transformative moments in their lives has major and lasting ramifications. With students are our “why,” we acknowledge our responsibility to support a fresh energy that demands the inclusion and visibility that is necessary for all of us to thrive.

If we are to truly commit to our students, we must be as fearless as they are. We must pledge to build a sustainable environment that affirms our students, enables critical, open dialogue, and results in cooperation, resiliency, and a community where all people have a seat at the table and all voices are valued and heard.