23 To Contribute to the Alleviation of Suffering | Carolyn O’Grady

My scholarship over the last several years has focused on social justice as understood through the lenses of multicultural education, service learning, spirituality, or an integration of these. These are the topics which most engage me intellectually, but which also have relevance in my personal life. I also focus on these themes because I wish to contribute in some positive way to the alleviation of suffering in the world. I hope to be an academic whose work offers scholarly insight combined with practical application.

My most recent publication is a text co-edited with Brian Johnson, The spirit of service: Exploring faith, service, and social justice in higher education, Anker Press (2006). This project was six years in the making and developed from an episode in one of my Education classes that occurred in Spring 1999. This is an unusual text in that it focuses on the Gustavus context and includes contributions only from Gustavus faculty and staff. It is one of only two books that I know of which explores these important themes in an integrated way. We feel this text meets a need and fills a niche.

I value collaborative scholarship. This isn’t because working collaboratively is easier; in fact, it can be considerably more difficult. It is simply that I find the most fruitful discussions occur across disciplines and among participants. One of the advantages of working at a liberal arts institution is this appreciation for interdisciplinarity, and I seek out these opportunities as well as initiate them. I find it challenging to write with another person, but doing so forces me to think more clearly, communicate more articulately, and have my assumptions both challenged and confirmed.

I also prefer to work with collaborators in conference presentations whenever possible. This Fall I co-presented at the Upper Midwest Campus Compact Conference with Elizabeth Baer on the Service Learning for Social Justice course collaboration in Northern Ireland in January 2004. I am also an invited panelist for the upcoming National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in Higher Education (NCORE) in June 2006 for a session titled “Teaching in the Multicultural Classroom: Renegotiating Faculty Identities, Roles, Structures.” The panel organizer is Mark Chesler at University of Michigan. This will be the third year I’ve been part of an NCORE major session. For two years I was a co-facilitator for a pre-conference institute on multiracial issues.

During 2005-06 I was a member of the Diversity Colloquium of the Collaboration for the Advancement of College Teaching and Learning, nominated by the Dean’s Office. Participants meet several times over the course of the academic year to discuss successes and address challenges around diversity on their campuses. The value of this experience comes from the opportunity to discuss shared readings and talk with peers from a four-state region about diversity issues.

In 2005 I received a Bush faculty development mini-grant for research on ELL pedagogy and practice. My goal was to establish a research base in second language learning so as to be a department and campus resource for these issues. As a result of the grant, I was able to purchase texts and attend conferences that broadened my understanding of language issues. This effort contributes to department initiatives regarding outreach to the Latino community and improved pre-service training on working with second language learners.

In 2004 I was an invited participant for the Oxford Round Table meeting on “Addressing the Education Needs of At Risk Children” (March 21-27), and was able to attend because of generous support from the office of the Associate Dean. The purpose of the Oxford Round Table is “to promote human advancement and understanding through the improvement of education.” Forty-nine participants from various disciplines came to Oxford, England, from around the United States. Each of us presented a short paper; each of us was also a respondent on two other papers. I don’t want to make too much of the fact that I was an invited participant. Hundreds of scholars from around the world are invited to each session. Nevertheless, it was a wonderful opportunity to share scholarly discussion with colleagues in a superb location.

In October 2002 I was an invited participant in the Off-Campus Studies Conference at the Center of Inquiry in the Liberal Arts at Wabash College. The focus of this conference was strengthening connections between the liberal arts college as a residential learning community and off-campus study. All participants presented papers describing the way their specific college attempted to establish connections between on- and off-campus learning opportunities, engaged in discussion about best practices, and identified future directions for these initiatives. (My paper is included in this dossier in the “Miscellaneous” section.)

Upcoming scholarly work continues my interest in spirituality and diversity. There are several projects I will be working on during the coming year and beyond. One involves an assessment of multicultural education texts for their inclusion (or, more likely, lack) of religion or spirituality as an aspect of diversity. A second initiative integrates my interest in contemplative practice into one of my courses. I have applied for a Contemplative Practice Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies. I also plan to do some research into best practices for mentoring programs for students of color at predominantly white colleges.