Convocation 2016: Social Justice 2020

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September 6, 2016

Wheelock's 2016 Convocation Ceremony focused squarely on social justice. Wheelock's 2016 Convocation Ceremony served as the centerpiece of a daylong series of events focused on the social justice issues raised by the College's community read, "The Beautiful Struggle" by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

President David ChardPresident David Chard welcomed students to Convocation, saying "Nearly 21 million students will enter college this year. But, like me, you chose Wheelock—because you want to create a better world. With your Wheelock experience you will be prepared to make a difference, a difference that's needed more than ever."

President Chard then led a panel discussion that focused on the value of a community reading book and how Coates' book in particular is relevant to Wheelock students, many of whom plan to work in social service professions.

Panelist Grace Kim, associate professor of Psychology, said having the entire Wheelock community start the year by reading and discussing one book helps her quickly start building a community within her classes. "I see it as an invitation to engage and converse with each other," she said. "This is an academic institution and we use texts as a common space where we can enter and all learn together."

Carlos Hoyt, assistant professor of Social Work, said the fact that Coates' experiences in the book may be foreign or just difficult for some readers to relate to is actually an opportunity to broaden students' thinking. "My assumption is that we're all here to pursue social justice, so the question is for whom?' he said. "The answer, I believe, is for everyone. So, we should embrace the unfamiliar."

Convocation PanelWilliam Rodriguez, associate professor of Juvenile Justice and Youth Advocacy, said Coates' book provides valuable insight for students who will be working with teenagers involved with the court system. "I always tell my students to pull apart the layers and figure out who's controlling the narrative," he said. "Why do young, African-American males-or Latino males or females-end up in the position they're in?"

One topic tackled during the panel discussion was the challenge of teaching social justice without inadvertently creating a "savior complex" among students.

"If you think you're here to save the world, your ego has already failed you," said Susan Owusu, director of Wheelock's Communications and Media Literacy Program. "You help people because you realize that your life and their lives are bound together in the world. You have to stop looking for the payout and start looking for the opportunity to change the system."

The Beautiful Struggle Book Cover

Convocation 2016 Schedule

9:45-11:15 Discussion of "The Beautiful Struggle" by Ta-Nehisi Coates
11:30-1:00 Senior Symposium Luncheon, a discussion with President Chard
1:30-3:00 Convocation, including a panel discussion facilitated by President Chard with panelists Susan Owusu, Grace Kim, Willie Rodriguez, and Carlos Hoyt
3:30-5:00 Deeper dialogue on "Refocusing Our Commitment to Inclusive Excellence" for all students, faculty, and staff
3:30-5:00 Graduate Student panel discussion on "The Beautiful Struggle" by Ta-Nehisi Coates
5:00 Campus BBQ on the green
7:00 Candle Lighting on the green

What is Convocation?

Wheelock College formally opens its doors each academic year with a Convocation Ceremony. Convocation is Latin for "coming together," and this important Wheelock tradition is part of a day of learning for the campus, with special activities planned for students, faculty, staff, alumni, and the larger community.

All incoming students read a specially chosen Community Read book prior to arriving on campus. They then discuss the book in small faculty- and staff-led discussion groups prior to the Convocation Ceremony. At Convocation, we address key themes raised by the Community Read book. Conversations about the book's theme continue throughout students' first-year courses.

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