At a faculty meeting the other day, we considered the idea of educational inclusivity. Ferrum College is a composite of 1) traditional students, 2) nontraditional students (mid-career professionals looking to polish and/or reorient their skillsets), and 3) minority students (~40%). Of these demographics, most can be more broadly considered first generation. How do we cater to this common denominator in the classroom, which transcends categories like gender or race?
In many ways, this “newfoundedness” parallels the political landscape of America. When it comes to knowledge of the political process, it seems like many Americans are uninitiated – despite the advocacy of their parents (and grandparents) before them. A disconnect is brewing. Pundits are convinced this is just part of a broader malaise – the death knell of a society founded on the idea of participatory engagement. How do we reawaken the political chops of students often two generations removed from the process?
That’s also a question we have to ask the agricultural faithful. Farmers are notoriously independent and cynical of politics. Fortunately, we have the apparatus to buck this trend – grassroots organizations like Virginia Farm Bureau work from the ground up to ensure that everyone has a voice. Might you get shot down at a resolutions meeting? Absolutely, but at least you made an impassioned plea to a broader audience.
In February, the VALOR team made a trip to Richmond to view the activities of state government – and how they intersect with advocacy organizations like Farm Bureau. I’ve worked at the state and Federal level of government before, so many of the discussions were familiar. There’s an indescribable vibe about being in the hallowed halls of the state capitol. There’s also an odd quirk that I’ve noticed – state issues (often just distanced enough from the day-to-day concerns of citizens) seem to take a back seat to local issues while not commanding the same degree of notoriety associated with federal actions. In other words, state issues are serially underreported by the media.
Despite this, I enjoy the deliberative environment in both chambers. At the same time, I respect the unenviable positions that elected officials may be put it. By all accounts, these are decent individuals caught in the crossfire – being pulled every which way by an electorate divided into much maligned “interest groups”. Said interest groups then employ “lobbyists” to make their case with a common voice.
Similarly, VALOR is designed to produce effective advocates. This parallels the historical idea of a liberal arts college – churn out an informed citizenry to be the heir apparents of democracy. Although colleges are still searching for an appropriate mix, VALOR has the appropriate blend of gender, racial, and commodity representation to form an inclusive core; one that can mobilize debate at all levels of political participation from novice to seasoned veteran. Let’s brandish our collective voice to benefit agriculture by thinking not only locally, but leveraging our resources to the regional, national, and global level.