Constitution Day always catches me by surprise, but when I sit down to write about it, I find it is always urgent and necessary to reflect on what “constitutes” us as a college and a community.
This past year, College Unbound finished our newest Strategic Plan, which lays out our institutional values of Lifelong Learning, in a Sustainability Grounded in Equity & Student Success, in practices of Storytelling, and in a Growth that is also about Adaptation & Innovation. We feel that these tenets will help us become more who we truly are.
Who we are is also guided by where we are. And so on this Constitution Day we also look to artists in our home cities doing the work of defining place, purpose, and belonging.
This month, the Waterfire Arts Center in Providence features PORTALES: Reimagining the Future, an art exhibit presenting the variety of ways that artists and organizers in Rhode Island have strengthened our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic and the movement against racial injustice.
In moments of difficulty, we can see how art can turn into ‘community portals’ that help us envision better futures. Built in conversation with Arundhati Roy’s writing of The Pandemic is a Portal, the exhibit emerges out of engagements by CU Faculty Nick Longo and Eric Sung and a sample of artistic works by RI-based artists who work in various mediums–photography, mixed media, painting, dance, video–and who have a practice of community organizing and/or are in relationship to grassroots community groups that center justice, equity, and access.
In Philadelphia, we look at murals across the city co-designed with artist Aram Sifuentes. These murals, organized as Messages to Our Neighbors, “stress the importance of continuous conversations on how immigration policy is a moving target, citizenship is difficult to achieve, and belonging to a place, a land, or a people is an ongoing negotiation.”
Aram’s work in co-creating the nationwide Protest Banner Lending Library, too, can stand as a model for CU to think about what type of library/archive/storytelling we want to center.
And in Chicago, where our students meet to think about a commitment to Housing as a Human Right, the National Public Housing Museum’s exhibit “All of the Above” insists that we sit with the sounds and stories of belonging in the face of gentrification.
Across place, and across the curriculum at CU, we have worked towards a greater understanding of, and commitment to, belonging. Through courses focused on multigenerational learning, Autobiographical Narratives & Representation, Critical Care and Critical Generosity, Radical Philanthropy, and Citizenship for Democracy, CU seeks to help our students learn, and indeed, also to learn from our students about the complex ways in which we all exist, move, and grow in our communities.
As an organization, CU seeks to be in conversation with artists, organizers, and culture bearers like those mentioned in Philadelphia, Rhode Island, and Chicago–and many more besides–who help us all grapple with what constitutes us.
As we are a community that values lifelong learning, we recognize that this will necessarily always be an unfolding process, one in which we constantly re-learn, adjust, and refine our understanding of what it means to be College Unbound. We hope you all will continue to stand alongside us as we continue this work together.
Provost & Co-Founder, College Unbound