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Growing Flowers Out of Concrete: Promoting Collective Justice through Fostering Interpersonal Understanding at Universities

By Aleezah Qasim

March 28, 2024

In Response to Cracks in Concrete

Mohsin Hamid and myself share many commonalities in our vantage points—sharing the same birthplace, for example, and mourning its suffocation under that pervasive smog—and yet I must consciously look beyond our basic common ground in order to prevent myself from making assumptions. I must focus on understanding where he, as an individual, is coming from. The blessing and the curse of our unprecedented access to information makes it far too easy for our generation to make snap judgements on the people we meet based on what we think we know from their appearances or their ethnic or economic background, even before we get to speak to them and learn about their worldview. I have observed a lack of the ability to meet people where they are at. Instead, off-hand comments are enough to dismiss people, shut down debate, and open ad hominem attacks.

This is where universities and centers of learning should play a vital role. Students must be encouraged to truly engage with their peers in good faith while centering human dignity. Students also have to be open-hearted to be able to change their perspective. And, in this moment of global polycrisis, of live-streamed brutality and cognitive dissonance, it is imperative that we openly talk about it—the pain, the anger, the confusion. Sweeping it under the rug under the guise of not offending our peers is not the solution.

Universities must continue to facilitate formal and informal safe discussions without censorship—from the smallest classroom to larger institutional forums like this one. Allow students to peacefully organize their own calls for justice, equality, and peace. Defend them if they are impeded. Keep funding and expanding global research opportunities and travel. We have so much to learn from each other and from people different to us. If we are not able to do that at a period in our lives dedicated to learning, then we have missed out on an essential element of the global student experience.

It is also up to us as global students to envision a world with more flowers than concrete. I agree with Hamid that the world is bursting out of the walls of the past hundred years of history. Let us plant new seeds that will flourish out of those cracks and help dismantle those borders. We can question prevailing beliefs while still recognizing the collective wisdom of our elders and mentors. Advocating for humanity, inclusivity, and sustainability in our coursework and student groups is not about building our resumes, but about cultivating our interconnected lives and communities.

Aleezah Qasim (G’24) is a graduate student in the McCourt School of Public Policy at Georgetown University.

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