Sunlight And Shadow: Learning, Privilege, And Humanity

By Stephen Morrow – Department Chair-Humanities Program

My thinking cap off to your upcoming Holiday and its promise of a break from the intensity of learning and taking classes, its hope of loving time with loved ones, and its space for looking ahead to your future purposes and goals. Namaste.

The Humanities at heart is the heart of all of us. And perhaps in this heart of hearts, questions we all share: what is the meaning of our experiences and challenges of being in the world? How do we best contribute and be our best selves? What is our path to happiness? These are questions that have been keeping the Humanities and all of us in education, hopping for a millennium. Hopping and hoping.

Core to my own reflection here is the deep human experience of learning, that capacity, and ability that lies at the heart of change and growth in our lives. Varied are the kinds and ways of learning.  We find ourselves here, together, at OCCC, a place of higher education.  Never underestimate the essential goodness of that in our lives. Do we all have ups and downs and failures and successes as learners and doers in higher ed? Certainly. But ground zero is our privilege and gift that we can study and learn and share knowledge with each other. Wow! That is a lot of good to have in our lives. And at OCCC, together.

Here we are, in a good place and somewhat privileged, notwithstanding setbacks and challenges, covid and changes. So, I reflect with you. What is the nature of privilege in relationship to learning and education? There is much at stake in the sunlight and shadow of privilege. Are we in deficit, balance, or excess? It matters to our humanity. Because in a democracy, we hope that there is an inherent fairness and balance in such core realities of life. Indeed, the community college stands for and fights for that fairness!

This privilege that we all share to learn and grow, comes with deep shadow. I am a guy who would rather work in the shadow first and bask in the sunlight after. The shadow of privilege is deeply mated to power and society. Dr. King always maintained that those who hold power and prestige and privilege will work hard not to let that fall into other hands. By the way, it feels like that sometimes trying to communicate the richness and the learning integrity of the Community College experience in relation to the four-year and research universities around the country. Well publicized logos and big sports teams go a long way in forming opinions about what higher education is supposed to be. But just a little bit of clear thinking along with knowing the intrinsic value of all persons, tells us that learning is for everyone, and the more variety and modes of delivery and opportunity, the better, right? But I digress.

Stephen Socrates Morrow (Courtesy Photo).

To the shadow. The shadow plays out in deep and harmful ways in our life and times. Privilege’s shadow I define here as the access to halls of power, be it through property ownership and wealth, voting freedoms, opportunity for higher education, having and having not, and even stuff like a working car or some minimal respite from the stress of debt and making ends meet. To deepen the shadow and its harm, all of this is highly visible in our high-tech-connected times. And appearances have their own shadows. Yikes! Shadow on shadow to dark!

But we look, we take a deep breath, and we ask ourselves what is our place in such long casted shadow? In a word, self-reflection. So many of us here at the community college are the very persons who have walked out from such shadow, left the shallow images and assumptions of Plato’s cave behind (always thanks to that special someone who helped us move into the light), and who now have something to share with those less privileged. Here is the light: others less privileged but not less deserving or less precious! So many of us are first-generation college students who bind together to bring light and confidence to all in our community. We support fairness as the one moment of truth that points toward a balanced life of privilege.

I love the power of thinking and reflection! What seems like unbearable darkness is so easily displaced with a light of discernment and understanding. Certainly not a magic wand to wave all unfairness away, but a lighted place where we can stand together in order to exercise the real end of privilege: bringing our best selves to better the world. That is sunlight at its most nourishing.

Therefore-what a beautiful word when it helps to lead us to light-therefore, the bright sunlight of our privilege to learn and attend college is about discovering our best self as we also discover the skills and talents that we all possess in our unique ways. Among all the riches of our best self (and the one I feel is the brightest of the brightest) is the goodness and compassion for others, all others.

Indeed, celebrate your privilege to learn and grow, and that goes for all of us at OCCC. Out of that privilege, work hard to share your inner light. And if I may tip my thinking cap to those who teach me, go students, go Socrates, go Dr. King, and go Humanities.

I would like to help us all fully understand the privilege we have with the integrity and responsibility that comes with it. And if I can lead you to gratitude for the privilege of learning, you will have some essential energy to carry you through the rouged and shadowy spots.