A “Wicked” Proposal

Friends, how have we already turned a corner into November? Fall, with all the trappings of Homecoming, Halloweekend, Voter Registration, and so much more, has flown by just as the Birds zooming across campus. From where I sit, my students are beginning to crane their necks to see ahead to final exams, presentations, and the respite of fall semester’s close.

As we look ahead, I’d like to bring your attention to the work of the first year Honors College students. Back in August, I shuffled onto one of several packed buses and caravanned with 200-some-odd, bright and shiny students to James Madison’s house. On that day, myself, Honors College faculty, and these fresh-faced students opened a loop. We began to ask what it means to be Madisonian in 2018 and what responsibility that might rest on the shoulders of this new Honors cohort.

Within the School of Communication Studies, we have spent the semester considering this question through the lens of persistent public problems. A symphony in three movements, our students have asked:

  1. What do I care about?
  2. So what am I going to do to about it?
  3. What can we do to help here?

First, we have asked our students to identify a particularlywickedpublic problem. Our definition of wicked in this case is not the stuff of Oz, but rather, problems that are hard to define, and even harder to identify solutions for. It took a little digging, but our students began the work of identifying diverse and complex wicked problems. Sexual Assault on College Campuses, Literacy, The Digital Divide in Education, Mental Health, and Binge Drinking are just a few of the persistent problems our students worked to articulate and flesh out.

Next, after sifting through the muck to find their wicked problem, our students worked with the Ethical Reasoning Educators to start the wobbly process of articulating solutions using the language of the 8 Key Questions. From this perspective, our students were able to start identifying the benefits and drawbacks of potential solutions. This month, in a forum style presentation, groups are sharing out potential solutions and deliberating with their peers to determine which solution best addresses their persistent public problem.

Finally, in an effort to close the loop we opened in August and bring these wicked public problems home, our students will develop Civic Action Plans to ask what we can do HERE to address this public problem. With the help of the Center for Civic Engagement, student groups will dream up how to make these incremental solutions come to fruition in specific and tangible ways. The gestation period for this project has been long, but we have operated under the hope that you, our students, will feel capable of addressing these looming, impossible problems floating just above you.

With that said, we want to share the fruits of this fall’s harvest with ALL of you! On behalf of the Honors College SCOM Faculty, I want to formally invite you to our December Symposium to see what wicked public problems JMU’s newest batch of Honors College students want to see SOLVED. We so hope you join us for compelling presentations, critical questions, and complimentary snacks.

Join us on Sunday, December 2nd between 1-4 PM in Harrison Hall. Schedules will be posted on the first floor of Harrison, just beyond the faculty lounge.

In Ethics + Empowerment,

Sarah Taylor Mayhak, MA

Instructor; The School of Communication Studies

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