Liberal Arts: Education to Combat Global Citizenship and Community Engagement

Sonipat, Haryana, 23 February, 2016:  Societal-cultural uniqueness, globalization, political change, technology and economic variegation introduce ‘difference’ as a cornerstone of our ‘civic’ and multi-cultural lives. How does ‘citizenship’ then, and along with it ‘community engagement’, power the Liberal Arts as a quintessential form of education to combat today’s multilayered challenges? Indeed, how does today’s University establish a rewarding, ongoing, and mutually beneficial commitment with wide branches of society and the world?  

In a bid to answer these questions, The Jindal School of Liberal Arts & Humanities (JSLH) organised a workshop on Liberal Arts, Global Citizenship and Community Engagement, at its Sonipat campus.

Professor (Dr.) C Raj Kumar, Vice Chancellor O. P. Jindal Global University spoke of the need to re-define liberal arts education, “Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities is about reimagining liberal arts studies. One of the important focus areas at JSLH is to understand what liberal arts studies means for community engagement and Global citizenship.”

Professor Kumar further noted, “The workshop is an attempt to discuss the methods and contents of engaging with the complex social challenges of the world today. The workshop will raise questions about how each specific and largely interdisciplinary wing of the liberal arts & humanities develops a method for usefully connecting, interpreting and perhaps changing the world outside the university, even as it forms an enriching linkage with it.”

Delivering the welcome address Kathleen A. Modrowski, Dean Jindal school of Liberal Arts and Humanities (JSLH) spoke about redefining liberal arts at Jindal “While being multi-disciplinary, the school also engages with community service and community building. The common question of what will you do once you graduate is not applicable here. In JSLH, it is not about what you learn, but how you learn it.”

Dean Modrowski further stated, “Through JSLH, one gets to forge local, regional and international ties. The programme of study explores the meaning of being a global citizen, so the process of learning becomes a transformative process for everyone. The joint degree programme between Rollins College and JSLH is also a first of its kind.

Dr. Thomas Lairson, Gelbman Professor of International Business, Rollins College, Florida in his inaugural address spoke of liberal arts being just as pragmatic as other disciplines or fields of study and pointed out that “JSLH is about creating international opportunities for students. This is a process of interactive education which brings students different perspectives and insights. Liberal arts education creates responsible leaders who understand fully the effects of their choices on others and can adopt a model perspective for judging these consequences.”

Speaking about the need for universities to engage with communities for bringing about positive change Niti Saxena, Senior Scientist – Rural Research, Sehgal Foundation said, “Relationship between civil societies and communities are of a transformative nature, It is also a transactional relationship. The University through a civil society negotiates its relationship with the community.”

Ms. Nandita Bhatt, Program Manager, Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) laid focus on giving back to society through community engagement “We are living in challenging times. There is widespread inequality. Higher education needs to be conscious and re-define their traditional roles. Youth is the primary agents of change, and must learn to give back to society.”

Radha Mahendru, Programme Manager, Khoj International Artists Association, India shared her experiences at Khoj which is located in Khidki village and is an example of how urban space can be utilized as a tool to understand people, “ art is a method, a process, not just an aesthetic exercise. Its aim is to positively build skills that can improve the livelihood of marginalized people.”  

Speaking on the transition from school to university and the tools which are needed to adjust to a completely different atmosphere and being in charge of your own decisions in the university space, Ms. Ranjoo Mann, Pro Vice Chairperson, Delhi Public School, Sonipat said “The moment one arrives in college, there is a disenchantment at the personal, professional and social level. The student is disconcerted because time is managed by themselves, unlike school where everything was routine.”

Focusing on giving back to the community Ms. Radhika Suri, Director, Environment Education at World Wildlife Fund, India said “Higher education should work on sustainable development. Education should work for raising awareness to save wildlife and ecology. For example, work involving species living in polar climates can be through involving student volunteers for research and writing.” 

Mr. Neel Kamal Singh, Deputy Secretary, Indian Red Cross Society spoke of the benefits of engaging with the Red Cross Society as volunteers, “Red Cross increases global tolerance. It believes in the principle of humanity, it negates barriers like colour, creed, religion, gender to give medical aid and relief. One volunteering with organizations like Red Cross gets exposed to a deeper understanding of human life.”

Highlighting building bridges through inter-cultural understanding Ms. Ridhima Chabbra, Specialist – School Relations, American Field Service, India said “AFS battles intolerance by spreading knowledge of cultures, one’s own and others. There are student exchange programs where students are sent to other cities/ countries and invited to stay with a host family and engage in community service. This helps the students to have an understanding of different communities, imagined or otherwise.”

Discussing the role of the internet, social media and technology for community engagement, Mr. Prabhat Garg, Founder, DemoKranti, noted “Since the traditional media is under the control of the state, social media is an important tool for dissent. Social media feeds back into mainstream media. Information has been bought to the public through crowd-sourcing. Social media is becoming the way where one can have a collaborative government and a participatory democracy. It is promoting a 2-way governance with citizens, lawmakers and government bodies all having the equal chance to participate.”

In a brainstorming session about liberal arts in the service of others Ms. Vanita Shastri, Dean of Undergraduate Programs, Ashoka University underscored the importance of integrating liberal arts study into the regular curriculum. She pointed out the value of collaborative learning among students and the community.

The event drew in practitioners from across the spectrum of Liberal Arts & Humanities including educationists, historians, lawyers, philosophers, sociologists, geographers, filmmakers, language specialists, religious and cultural studies scholars, environmental activists, career academics, economists, litterateurs, performing artists and entrepreneurs.

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