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As colleges gear up for fall, questions abound — and opportunities for learning are abundant

This coming school year, although we are living through troubled times, is ripe for civic learning and practicing our democracy. 

Old Main, Hamline University, St. Paul
Old Main, Hamline University, St. Paul

Excitement accompanies the start of a new school year. This year the anticipation is especially great. How many classes will be in person? How can online learning be engaging? Will the technology work? What will the sports scene look like on campus? What will it be like to have cross country in the spring?  Will everyone keep a safe distance?

These are just a few questions students and my colleagues are asking at Hamline University and other colleges. The atmosphere is the same at campuses throughout the state.

As Hamline students arrive on campus, signs of the George Floyd summer will be evident. Lloyd’s, the corner pharmacy on Minnehaha and Snelling, is a pile of rubble. Boarded storefronts continue to dot University Avenue. Scars from the summer are not hidden.

Wearing masks will be a shared expectation. Fear of COVID-19 will continue. Keeping safe distances will be the new normal. Politics and the upcoming election will be the talk of the campus. Who will best represent and lead us in the future?

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This coming school year, although we are living through troubled times, is ripe for civic learning and practicing our democracy. Rep. John Lewis called education the cornerstone  of our democracy. On the day before he passed away, Lewis and Rep. Kevin McCarthy sent a letter to the secretary of education championing civic education for students.

Jim Scheibel
Jim Scheibel

COVID-19, the murder of George Floyd, the civic unrest that followed, and this fall’s election are significant opportunities for everyone — students, teachers, and staff — to have serious conversations, and act to create better universities.

The coronavirus requires us to act not selfishly but for the good of all. Since March, we have recognized “we are in this together.” Until a vaccine is discovered, we will wear our face masks, keep safe distances, and demonstrate we can teach and learn with different modalities. Our public health program will help us understand the role of public health. The School of Business can help us understand the impact COVID-19 has had on the economy, and what strategies will bring people back to work.

The Hamline community, with the encouragement and leadership of President Faynese Miller, is ready to dig deep to explore the issues of race and equity. We will continue to seek truth, racial healing and transformation. The memorial to George Floyd at 38th and Chicago and site of the killing of Philando Castile are constant reminders of the work we must do. The unity and collaboration of students, faculty and staff are essential. Our varied disciplines will help us explore what defunding police means.

Our goal for voting participation by students in the fall is 90  percent, 90 in ’20. Hamline has previously been a leader in voter turnout. The divisiveness that has characterized the campaign thus far does not have to be that way. The rancor does not have to be there. We will listen to people’s stories, especially people who come from different backgrounds, and respect cultures.

2020 is a year to remember. It can be a time of tremendous learning and building communities.

Jim Scheibel, a former mayor of St. Paul, is Professor of Practice in the Management, Marketing and Public Administration Department, Hamline UniversityHe is a former director of both AmeriCorps VISTA and the Senior Corps. 


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