As part of International Women’s Month at IE, Juliana Naranjo Pereira, Chief of Campus Life at IE University, Spain has written this article to reflect on the way we see and relate to people and the importance of building community together.
I listened to a podcast recently in which a student from an undergraduate program was explaining the difference between her generation and “older ones”, which I guess was mine. It struck me how eloquently and naturally she stated: “the major difference is that we’re not defined by what we DO, we ARE so much more.” It made me think of the fundamental role our several jobs have played in defining us, and I couldn’t help but ask myself, why do we let this happen?
The student went on to explain that the “older generation” tends to separate everything: disciplines, genders, spaces, whereas her generation let’s everything flow and mix, and they are not only OK with that, they actually don’t know any other way of being. It’s the most open-minded way to “receive and accept”, she stated. What I found surprising was the one thing she mentioned that was important in her selection of a university, the one thing that really mattered when she was choosing and “mixing” degrees and the environment where she would most comfortable to flourish in – it all had to do with community!
How did she “get it” at such a young age? Most people in today’s world rely on a community for practical purposes. The necessities of life rarely come from one’s own hands, but rather from a complicated “web of mutuality,” as Martin Luther King, Jr. once phrased it. While many people require a community to fulfill life’s needs, most want to be part of a community because there is something indescribably lovely about belonging to a group of people who share something more substantial than geographical location, something they are all passionate about. Something that, when shared with others, makes individuals feel less lonely. A community is a safe place.
I have seen IE to become a home for many, to become much more than an Alma Mater – it is a place where they planted seeds, where they grew roots. Often times, just like the air we breathe, it happens within us in one breath – we take for granted the space we inhabit. Every day we enter the university as a professor, an alumni, an employee, a student. And the list could go on, but what if we entered it as just US? What if we could put aside how others define us – our titles, roles, the tasks we execute – and entered as who we truly are? WE are unique and extraordinary people, and we come bearing gifts in hopes that our community will accept and treasure them. No cloud nor wave is the same, and sometimes we forget how different yet special we all are, and just as these two sources of nature belong to a bigger picture, so do we, and that is community.
Every person reading this has added in some way to the whole, which is this institution and its purpose of fostering positive change – through education, research and/or innovation. Student clubs offer a bridge, they provide a space for all of us to evolve, to grow and to nurture new skills. Professors enlighten us each day and help us learn to question and develop inquisitive minds. Alumni around the globe make us proud and have shown us that in staying connected we grow stronger together and more united. Our staff thrusts forward day in and day out to give the very best we can, not just to our jobs but to the bigger purpose – to serve our students and our community and provide them with a memorable and excellent experience. All together we make up this community that has a clear purpose – fostering positive change.
Community building is about building trust and conveying authenticity. As human beings, we seek to connect, to gather and to live in community. Ultimately, we strive to be providers to our society, planet and those around us. As I was listening to the student on the podcast speak about breaking down barriers, having disciplines converge, and letting go of our notions of what should be to leave room for what could be. I was thinking that it never ceases to fascinate me how our youth simply “get” what’s important.
To make sure you also have a view of the “older generation”, I’d like to share a final reflection from a person I deeply admire for being a living proof of walking the talk. Barry-Wehmiller’s Chairman and CEO, Bob Chapman, wholeheartedly means it, and not just in his cultural vision statement, when he says, “what if we were to see business as a powerful force for good… and what if we measure success by the way we touch the lives of others…” Would we live in more harmony, in community and peace?
I believe we would. Together we belong, and today and every day I celebrate the gifts you bring to the unusual community that is IE.