Unity

I’ve been struggling to write this post; well practiced diversionary tactics, sidelining my attention into other avenues, have come into play. But like all shying away from something that must be done, needs to be said, or should be appropriately faced, the shying away in itself eventually becomes an irritant, a reminder that I’m not doing myself any favours.

The reason for the struggle is the necessary topic. Most weeks when I write, I feel as though I have a freedom of choice about the topic of the week – I can direct reflections or tangential musings towards this subject, or that occurrence. This week, its a different kind of choice I’ve made here – The subject matter is something that needs to be acknowledged and unpacked in this entry, the only choice is how.

This week a suicide bomber took lives and caused injury and destruction to people attending a pop concert at a stadium in Manchester – a senseless, futile, unforgivably wasteful act.

There – that’s it. That’s as much word count that the act and the person is going to get from me – I’m not going to add to the cacophony of voices that are replaying the details and the numbers and the speculations and the drama of what occurred. I see no need to further sensationalise here the event a la a style of reportage that seems increasingly seek to manipulate feeling, rather than report.

I’m going to focus on one aspect of the what next; the reaction at our University.

Ever since I came to Salford for my interview some 3 and a bit years ago now, I’ve been aware of something special at play here. Its very hard to put into words, but I felt it very tangibly during that first visit. One sees symptoms of it all over the place; in the hello’s I give and receive as I cross campus; in the ways and words our students use to reflect on their learning and their experiences here as transformative; in the willingness of colleagues from across the university to engage in the topic of the day, or a working group, or whatever.

Its a groundedness, a sense of shared endeavour, a willingness to get involved, and a cast iron, but often quiet, pride in what we do and how we do it. A key part of this is the acknowledgement that our students and our staff come from a hugely diverse range of backgrounds spanning a plethora of socio-economic and cultural contexts, so part of the unique warmth and passion that I see, and am humbled to be part of at Salford, comes from this beautiful mix of opinions, backgrounds, and ideas. And here’s the thing that sits under it all – there is, and has always been, an incredible sense of shared identity – at Salford, we have a good idea about who we are, we understand ourselves and our institutional strengths (and weaknesses) – and though this understanding, there is a unshakeable core (again, quiet most of the time) of unity – unity in diversity.

This week, in the wake of such pointless destruction, I have seen that quiet sense of a community belonging to itself – our resolve has been tested. In response to this test the sense of unity in diversity, without hesitation, has sprung to the fore and become a loud and proud voice in speech and action.

I have seen it in the pop-up stands for staff and students giving out tea and coffee and providing the space for a chat and reflection, I have seen it in the way our Students’ Union has worked tirelessly in partnership with our support services to ensure our students feel supported, I have seen it in the one minute of silence that we as a community observed this week, joining countless others up and down the country – at a quiet time of term on campus this brought out hundreds of staff and students together – I have seen it in the meetings of our faith groups and the societies that share our multi-faith centre – the faith leaders within our campus chaplaincy actively coming together to express visible unity in one shared voice and one shared message; that we will not be divided. I have also seen this unity in simple every day moments; walking through one of our restaurants at lunchtime, and listening to the melting pot of languages at play, seeing students from all over the world dotted around the seating and happily sharing space, lunch and conversation. A united, inclusive diversity that is core to us doing what we do – what is a university if not a meeting place for ideas?

And this sense of unity, normally there just as a part of a comforting background sense of how things are, now remains a strongly voiced insistence that will carry on in the coming weeks and months.

I’m immensely proud to be part of such a sense of shared togetherness. And, going forward across the coming days, this is where I will put my energies; this is where I choose to focus.

See you next week.

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Author: samgrogan

I am many sided; Pro Vice-Chancellor Student Experience at Salford University, Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, driven Tough Mudder runner, and a lover of the outdoors. I live in the heart of the beautiful Peak District with my wife and our pets. On weekends, you'll find me out in the countryside with the dog, running or walking up a hill, or typically cooking for friends (I'm getting better, so they say) My role at Salford is one I cherish. I'm one of the fortunate few who wake up excited about the day ahead. It's really not work when it's this much fun. As part of the Vice-Chancellor's Executive Team I work alongside a gifted and dedicated team of creative educationalists passionate about being better tomorrow than we are today. As PVC SE at Salford I hold executive responsibility for both the assurance of quality and standards of our institutional academic portfolio, and its strategic direction and character. Intertwined with this facet of my role, I am responsible for strategic leadership and enhancement of the wider student experience and the development of a distinctive Salford learning environment. My overall purpose, driven by these two key parts of my role, is to develop a bold, playful learning landscape at Salford which delivers holistic sustainable success, preparing our students for life. I'm fascinated by how people learn, and how we might collectively make that experience result in a profound expansion of personal and professional horizons and an extension of possibilities for all parties involved. My greatest reward comes from seeing thresholds crossed, barriers broken, new habits formed and changes made. To this end, I'm also endlessly absorbed in considering how we might develop better, more useful ways of integrating the digital landscape and other technologies, emerging and present, into the act of learning. I think we're just beginning - a brave new world awaits... My background is in performance - Before undertaking my PhD and before spending the first half of my university career as a lecturer, programme leader and head of department, in my early career I acted, danced and made theatre across the world. This ten year experience continues to be fundamental in shaping the way I think about teaching and learning. At its best I see it as a facilitated journey of discovery, play, risk and adventure anchored in 'reflective doing'. Not 'knowing' in this context is often a signal that a useful path is being trodden - Thinking on its own is just rehearsal...

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