Why Vision Matters

Discussions of board diversity often focus us on racial and gender diversity, and rightly so given that corporate boards are made up of over 70% white men with similar numbers on boards of large non-profits. But when we start the discussion of board diversity with race and gender, we must make sure not to miss the crucial insight: boards benefit from a diversity of lived-experience perspectives, and while these are surely shaped by race and gender, they are also shaped by socio-economic differences, generational experiences, and cultural expectations that come with different ethnic and national origins. 

It is not an empty claim that diverse boards are more effective. Research conducted by the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy documents the disparity between boards and the populations they serve. Specifically, the report cites a correlation between a more diverse board and increased levels of engagement and more effective donor relations. Further study suggests that the absence of board members with diverse backgrounds and experiences can lead to “blind spots” that make the board susceptible to strategies that don’t fully account for the realities the organization is facing or the people they are trying to serve.

When I think about boards I think about the vision and core values of an organization. Our vision and values are essentially promises we make to our stakeholders, telling them what to expect when they join us on the journey as employees or as we serve our customers or partners. These promises should drive what happens in an organization every day– from smaller decisions and actions made by a brand new employee to big decisions made by veteran leaders. But it is the board that sets the tone and expectations, making it the most important room to be in for any organization. 

People are the engines that drive organizations. The conversations that take place change depending on who has a seat at the table. And while it isn’t always easy, it is always worthwhile to speak up from the perspective one knows. In one of my first board experiences, the question of diversity arose. One of only a handful of women on the board asked if the board wasn’t being hypocritical, asking for diversity in the organization while being a board of “middle aged white males.” All eyes turned to me, new in my role on the board and a woman of color:  “I’m not middle aged,” I quipped. We shared a laugh and got down to business, improving on diversity, educational access, and the strength of our organization in the process.

Seeking other mission-aligned people to serve on the boards we commit to is central to every trustee’s work. But “mission-aligned” needn’t mean homogenous, and organizations benefit when it does not. As I get to know some of the excellent organizations working to diversify boards–for example, Him for Her founded by visionary Jocelyn Mangan–it becomes clear that diversity builds capacity at every level when it is recognized for the richness it brings to boardroom discussions that shape the future.

With the challenges facing us, including lack of confidence in governments worldwide, nonprofits and for-profits have a serious role to play in addressing some of our biggest challenges–including polarization, inequality, and the pressures on our environmental ecosystems. Board service that is intentional and focused in its leadership, and richly diverse in its composition, can make a real difference. 

Three Things I Learned About Polarization

I had the pleasure recently of engaging a conversation with two remarkable UWC alumni on the topic of polarization and the UWC mission. It was a fascinating hour where Doug Turner ‘87 and Xochitl Torres Small ‘03 Waterford shared their experiences coming from two different political parties but with UWC experiences that were very similar. The discussion was successful on two fronts: First, we modeled a civil conversation between people with divergent views. Second, they helped all of us think about polarization in different ways and, more importantly, challenged us to do several things differently. 

Good thinking leads to better action. Here are my action items after the conversation:

  1. Take the long view: I was struck by very disparate comments and questions from two of our audience members. One asked if the current state of discourse in our country was an indication that the country is headed for ruin; might our democracy have run its course? Another suggested we take a longer view and understand that polarization has always been part of the fabric of our country. It ebbs and flows over decades and generations and, with deliberate effort, corrects itself. I realize I should neither presume or despair. At any rate, the immediate frustration we all feel should be tempered with a longer view backwards and optimism looking forward.
  2. Double down on empathy: A theme that kept coming up, no matter which question I asked or the direction the conversation went, was the critical importance of empathy. When we start to think that people who see the world differently than we do are somehow less worthy or ill-intentioned, polarization can really set in. The more we embrace the humanity of those who see things differently the more we can engage in meaningful dialogue. That doesn’t mean we give up our principles or dearly held views, but it means we listen from a position of goodwill.
  3. Follow diverse, thoughtful people: As the president of a school with students from over 90 countries who come with their own values and cultural backgrounds, I talk a pretty good game when it comes to diversity. It’s a necessary part of the job and resonates with my core values. But Xochitl and Doug encouraged everyone to follow thoughtful leaders who have different views than we do. They made me take a hard look at the pile of books on my nightstand and the newsfeed on my phone. A quick look tells me I can do better, adding more “voices from the other side of the aisle.” There are plenty of well-reasoned arguments for points of view different from mine and I know I need to work harder to understand them.

There are many reasons I came to work at UWC-USA six years ago– the motivated students and dedicated faculty among them. But the biggest reason I came to work here is the UWC mission. The UWC mission is not just a bunch of pretty words to me; it’s a set of guiding principles and values. I’m more convinced today than I have ever been that the mission asks – or even demands – that I do my part to seek understanding, collaboration, and unity. We can disagree, and we should disagree, but disagreement without understanding and empathy leads to the kind of shallow, damaging discourse that advances only the narrowest interests. I’m energized and ready to do my part on behalf of the common good – I invite you to join me.

Into the Woods, Into Adulthood

UWC-USA President Victoria Mora was asked to write a piece about UWC-USA for the Parents League of New York Review, a publication geared for parents with a strong interest in education. She chose to write about Kurt Hahn’s vision for the UWCs and the power of nature in the UWC experience. 

“Hahn’s principles were grounded in a belief that investing in youth, and challenging them to grow, would yield a more peaceful world. Hahn saw decency and kindness as natural to young people. He sought to bring together students on the threshold of adulthood, where this decency could be encouraged and nurtured in the face of challenges best met cooperatively. Such an education, Hahn believed, could provide a check on society’s tendency to corrupt the natural inclination in young people to form connections with one other—regardless of their differences.”

Wilderness challenges and hikes are central to the UWC-USA experience and our alumni speak to the power of their orientation hikes in the nearby mountains.

“It is that first wilderness challenge that binds them and makes them friends for life. It is something they never forget. It doesn’t matter where they come from, or where their families fall on the broadest economic spectrum imaginable, or what cultural commitments they thought were settled for themselves. Because they have had to depend on one another, they can never see success again as wholly individual, wholly about themselves.”

Read the full article here.

Welcome Ceremony Remarks: Victoria Mora

The 2020/21 Welcome Ceremony was held in February of 2021 because of concerns about gatherings during the pandemic. The ceremony affords second-year students an opportunity to welcome first-year students. Dr. Mora shares her thoughts on the current Zeitgeist, community, and pride in one’s country and flag.

Welcome Ceremony 2020/21 Check out pictures of the Welcome Ceremony here.


Social Movements During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Nadejda Marques ’90 shared her thoughts on human rights during the pandemic and answered student questions during an MLK weekend workshop on January 17, 2021.

Nadejda is a specialized human rights researcher and consultant for gender and social inclusion. She holds an M.A. from the Fundação Getúlio Vargas (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) and a Ph.D. in Human Rights and Development from the Universidad Pablo de Olavide (Seville, Spain), and has worked in human rights for two decades. She has written on a range of topics, including resettlement of refugees, internally displaced and former combatants in Angola, public health in sub-Saharan Africa, and school health services in the United States. Marques has served as Angola researcher for Human Rights Watch and as a frequent consultant for AJPD, a leading Angolan rights center. She has worked as a special correspondent for the Washington Post in Latin America and taught and/or worked at Harvard, Bentley College, the University of Massachusetts, Stanford, and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Marques is fluent in English, Portuguese, and Spanish.


UWC-USA President Writes Letter to Department of Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security has proposed a rule that would limit the duration of status of students on visas, forcing students to renew their visas unnecessarily. The following letter was written to submit as a formal comment on the proposed rule.

October 14, 2020

Sharon Hageman
Acting Regulatory Unit Chief, Office of Policy and Planning
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
500 12th Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20536

Re: DHS Docket No. ICEB-2019-0006-0001, UWC-USA Comments in Response to Establishing a Fixed Time Period of Admission and an Extension of Stay Procedure

As the president of United World College-USA, and on behalf of our school community, which is an international boarding school located in New Mexico, I submit this comment letter in response to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s proposed rule, Establishing a Fixed Time Period of Admission and an Extension of Stay Procedure (DHS Docket No. ICEB-2019-0006-0001), published September 25, 2020.

We strongly recommend that the proposed rule be completely withdrawn and that admission for the duration of status remain in effect.

Read the rest of the letter about the DHS Rule here.

The Wakashio Oil Spill Devastating to Mauritius

Mauritius, a popular holiday destination in the Indian Ocean, known for its beautiful beaches, is currently facing a severe environmental crisis. On the 25th of July, the MV Wakashio bulk carrier, transporting around 4,000 tonnes of oil and diesel, ran aground on the Pointe D’Esny coral reef in the South-East of the island. The ship, owned by Nagashiki Shipping Co., a Japanese company, but registered in Panama, was navigating from China to Brazil when the incident occurred. It was confirmed that the incident resulted from poor navigation and negligence from the crew, who had received several warnings from Mauritian coastguards.

Despite Mauritian authorities repeatedly maintaining that things were under control, the ship started leaking 1,000 tons of oil into the lagoon on the August 6. In opposition to the initial inaction from the government, the Mauritian population quickly mobilised and started making booms to contain the oil. Initially, they were filled with bagasse, a residue from sugar-cane processing. This was not sufficient, and Mauritians responded by collecting and donating human and animal hair, which are known to be great oil absorbents.

On August 7, France sent a navy ship, a military aircraft containing pollution control equipment, and experts from its neighbouring island, La Reunion. Japan sent a team of six advisers for assistance as well. Thankfully, to this day, most of the oil was successfully pumped out, with a small portion still needing to be extracted.

Even so, the spill already had devastating effects on the lagoon, coral reef, and shore of the area and more long-term consequences will follow. Schools in the region even had to shut down because the air was so toxic. The oil spill, already a catastrophe by itself, is even more threatening due to its location. It occurred close to the Blue Bay Marine Park, a UNESCO protected site which is home to many of Mauritius’ protected and endangered species. The biodiverse fauna and flora living in the lagoon are now facing extinction.

The tourism industry, which is at the center of Mauritius’ economy, was already heavily impacted due to COVID-19 – the borders are closed until further notice since March 2020, and is likely to be hampered further due to this ecological disaster.

Please help raise awareness surrounding this issue and consider helping local NGOs as they preserve our unique wildlife and ecosystem!

Nora is currently living in London and entering her final year at University College London pursuing a BA in European Social and Political Studies with a concentration in law, international relations, and Italian. She spent this past year studying abroad in Rome, at La Sapienza University. 

CEC Journal: Hurt and Repair

Welcome to the seventh issue of the CEC Journal; an issue that welcomed submissions around the theme Hurt and Repair. The CEC Journal showcases the range of important work being done by the Bartos Institute for the Constructive Engagement of Conflict at UWC-USA and its partners across the world.

At the inception of this issue we could not have foreseen the onset of a global pandemic nor the wave of Black Lives Matter protests that have erupted across the U.S. and the world following the murder of George Floyd by police. But the choice of a universal theme that is so essential to CEC proved fruitful even in the face of these events. Hurt and Repair are evidenced across all contributions:

Opening the journal is an interview with UWC-USA’s own Selena Sermeño, by Courtney E. Martin. This conversation is essential reading for anyone looking to find their bearings during social distancing. Selena’s work is always restorative, and in this case sets out to mitigate what she describes as a traumatic loss using young people’s communal wisdom and her own tips from a life’s career.

The next two articles inform important aspects of our everyday understanding of events at the U.S. border, but especially now —when COVID-19 threatens the most marginalized and confined, and when federal law enforcement agents quell peaceful protests— their message is urgent. First Azadeh Shahshahani and Dévora Gonzalez take us through the bloody history of U.S. Border Patrol to show how the institution itself is violent and must be dismantled. Then Allegra Love details the economic and humanitarian problems with ICE detention centers. In her daily work, reparations means fighting legal battles for victims (often LGBTQ people) of this cruel system.

In the photography of Khadim Dai, we see another version of the same migratory reality transposed to another continent: Indonesian refugee camps for Hazara people fleeing Afghanistan. Photography offers a glimpse of what reparation can mean, as much for the object (a community which rebuilds life through food, sports, and its children) as its subject (a photographer who tells his story).

This issue also centers the work and stories of UWC-USA students. Judy Goldberg knows how to do this better than anyone through story-work. We are immensely grateful for how she was able to apply this project to all first-year students, who were able to capture a snapshot of their lives in times of COVID-19. We are proud to share three of the strongest stories fitting this issue’s theme.

Experiential education is a cornerstone of the UWC-USA experience. At the end of their program, students are expected to show self-reflection about their growth and challenges, their ethical considerations, and their teamwork. In the writings of four recent graduates, we give you an idea of the power of non-academic learning.

Peace-building is a fundamental UWC mission, but Andy Gorvetzian shows that we cannot take this for granted. He shares his reflections on doing restorative justice at a time when political identity cause ruptures within our own community.

In the same vein of active peace-building, Emiel Stegeman shares his thoughts about working with men on masculinity. In a personal essay framed by the UWC values, he argues that to be truly concerned with the state of masculinity today is to take a feminist perspective on it.

Finally, we have the joy of sharing UWC-USA’s 2020 MLK Day Café. Not only do students showcase their musical talents and wide repertoire, but the program notes (written entirely by students) show how art can be a tool for challenging injustice.

The articles and art gathered here serve to remind us that understanding history, our current culture, and our own selves in order to engage in restorative acts — from building community at a distance to campaigning for human rights at home — is perpetual work. They display the everyday practical wisdom that is carried out as we build our communities and honor our values. We do these things not to write about them but because they must be done; as responsible global citizens we must constantly face difficult truths and not only when they boil over onto our TV screens or Twitter feeds.
Journalist: Professor Adorno, two weeks ago the world still seemed in order…

Theodor Adorno: Not to me.

(Der Spiegel, May 5 1969)

We are delighted to share this work with you.
Emiel Stegeman
Managing Editor, CEC Journal, Bartos Fellow ’19-’20
Naomi Swinton
Editor-in-Chief, CEC Journal, Director of the Bartos Institute
Image Credit: Christopher Thomson’s Constructive Engagement sculpture at UWC-USA