As I write this, the University of Rhode Island is currently holding strong on a position to hold its commencement ceremony in its Ryan Center arena, rather than on the Quadrangle as is the tradition. Despite their citation of “a thorough examination of best practices for ensuring safety at such a large and critical event”, President Dooley also cites recent events as a need to stay vigilant.

Internet presence of URI students and alumni is expressing a mixture of outrage and confusion over the decision. As someone who did get to walk across the stage on the Quad, I completely understand the feeling of being cheated out of a campus tradition. Further, I share the voiced frustration of many who have noted how few Boston area schools have altered their outdoor commencement plans. It’s been interesting to be able to look at this not just as an alumna of the institution, but also as a college administrator.

But, as with so many other recent injustices aired on social media, this one has taken on an air of grousing across, and not up. People are raising awareness of the issue, but talking to each other. While awareness is important, sharing information across isn’t a complete solution to something that was decided on a level above that. That is to say…all the awareness in the world doesn’t help anyone if the people in power aren’t aware.

Think about the nature of the “If we get 1 million likes, we’ll get…” or “Like this to voice your support for/disdain for…” posts. They let people on the same level know how you feel, and can garner support in that way. But you can bet that the doctors working to cure cancer aren’t waiting to see how it’ll be received through social media before they get to work. And the largest roar in the world on social media isn’t going to help President Dooley change his mind, because no one’s speaking to him.

So what do you do? Talk up, not across. Sign the petition started by current student Jacqueline Atkins. Call the President’s office. Send emails to President Dooley and other decision makers. And tell your friends about what’s going on…but tell them to do something.

At some point, someone (I truly wish I could remember who!) likened social media to a conversation with oneself that other people can see and choose to take part in. If that’s true, when something deeply bothers you, don’t float it out into cyberspace and hope that someone talks back. Start a meaningful and intentional conversation. That’s how change starts.

I’d also like to share this opinion from another URI alumnus and leadership educator, Brian Sullivan.

2 thoughts on “Talk Up, Not Across, To Create Change

  1. Word. I would add to this operating within one’s spheres of influence; some may only talk across because they believe, erroneously, that social media or venting on the same plane is their only sphere. While I’m not familiar with URI’s structure, an example would be not taking the issue to the student body president, who likely has the president’s ear, if not a seat on the Board of Trustees and the ability to effect change.

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