by Chad Dull, Vice President of Academic Affairs, MSC SE
Anyone who has been in education for a length of time has had students who are simply stuck in our memories and will be forever. My career in education started a long time ago as a grade school teacher, and I think often of a boy in my first class of 19 second graders — we’ll call him Bradley. Bradley often showed up at school in worn out or dirty clothes, and his family seemed to be going through a lot of tough times. He told me stories of having to sleep in one room of the house because the heat was off, or about the time the sewer backed up and made part of the house unusable. Anyone who has been a teacher has had a kid like Bradley in their class. You do what you can to help, but Bradley and his family’s troubles aren’t the first thing I remember about him.
I remember a little boy who just simply could not stay quiet. In fact, he said that his first-grade teacher had told him he was a “blurter,” as in he would blurt things out without thinking. That teacher was right, Bradley did blurt things out, all the time, but he was thinking. We had a very familiar pattern. I would be teaching a lesson and often from across the room, I would hear “Uh, Mr. Dull…” and I would sigh and answer, “Yes, Bradley.” And without fail he would respond “I like you, Mr. Dull” and I would smile and reply “I like you too, Bradley.”
So, why am I telling you this? I am sharing this story because it has shaped what I believe students of all ages need. Bradley was young person in tough circumstances who needed a place to belong. Our little banter about liking one another was him verifying that he was wanted in my classroom and in our school. Looking back, I think he was afraid that people didn’t want him to be there because he wasn’t great at following rules, and school was hard for him. Making sure we liked each other (daily) was his way of checking.
At Minnesota State College Southeast, we are working to make sure our students know they are wanted, not just welcome. Now maybe that doesn’t seem like a big difference, but I think it means a lot. If you are my age, you can likely remember when we advocated for “tolerance” when we talked about diversity and differences among people. Most of us now would admit we were well-intentioned, but “tolerating” differences is no longer enough. Today the notion of embracing difference is closer to the goal. I think we are going to someday feel the same about the word “welcome” versus the word “wanted.”
As an open-access institution, it is crucial that we create the feeling of belonging and a sense of being wanted. I’ve written before about being part of and reflecting the communities we live in. We work every day to make sure our students can see themselves here. That is the promise of a technical and community college. Of course, you are welcome here, but more than that, you are wanted.
My long-ago second grade student Bradley must be an adult now and I am not sure where he ended up after our year together. He gave me a hug on the last day of school, like seven-year-olds do. On that day, he said, “I love you, Mr. Dull,” and I didn’t sigh when I said, “I love you too, Bradley” — but I did have to pretend there was something in my eye. For that year, in that classroom, that little boy knew he belonged and was wanted.
I want every student at MSC Southeast to know the same thing. You are not just welcome at our college, you are someone we want here — and we can’t wait to be your partner in chasing your dreams.