Personal and Social Responsibility
for a World Lived in Common
"Conscience does make cowards of us all," Hamlet says while expounding on his personal existential crisis. Lying at the heart of one of Shakespeare's most famous (and most taught) plays, this statement confronts many college students just as they are struggling with their own questions about the meaning of existence. Its gist is that a preference for the life one knows compels one to continue living. But its thrust is that in consciousness lies inaction.
The sentiment will be familiar to many college students, for the first time encountering overwhelming details about the enormous challenges facing them, their country, and their planet. Compelled to ask big questions, they may find small actions insufficient, and may, like Hamlet, feel paralyzed by uncertainty. Hamlet got over this sentiment, with tragic consequences. The challenge for today's colleges and universities is to help students likewise move beyond paralysis, but in optimism rather than vengeance, empowered by consciousness to take responsibility for their actions' consequences in the world.
AAC&U's Core Commitments project took up this cause
as it developed tools for colleges and universities
to teach their students to practice the five dimensions
of personal and social responsibility, which Caryn McTighe
Musil describes in this issue of Diversity &
Democracy. This issue explores with particular
zest those dimensions that most closely align with the
goals of building a diverse and inclusive world: "contributing
to a larger community," "taking seriously
the perspectives of others," and "developing
competence in ethical and moral reasoning and action."
Students' capacities in these areas will be indispensable
as they prepare to contribute to a world lived in common,
and our authors' contributions reveal ways to make higher
education a stage for that world.
Fortunately, very few college students will find answers
to their questions about the meaning of life by following
in Hamlet's footsteps. If Hamlet is a hero who conflates
conscience and consciousness, and whose actions ultimately
display little regard for either, our students must
be modest heroes whose consciousness and consciences
are tools for global change. This issue of Diversity
& Democracy challenges colleges and universities
to help students recognize their role in the interconnected
world around them so conscience grants them courage
rather than cowardice.
--Kathryn Peltier Campbell, editor