Scholar Greg Ricks Inspires Student Activism

by The Cowl Editor on November 2, 2017


Dr. Greg Ricks.
Dr. Greg Ricks. Photo Courtesy of RA Archives

by Lela Biggus ’18


Opinion Staff


Global Studies Visiting Scholar Dr.  Greg Ricks, arrived at Providence College on Monday, October 23, for a week of conversation about social justice and racial equality, visits to public and community service and global studies classes, and gatherings with faculty and students over dinner and ice cream.

As a lifelong advocate of equal opportunity education, diversity, and youth activism, his arrival highlights aspects of the college experience that seem to be lacking on our own campus at the moment.

Ricks comes to PC from Stellenbosch University in Cape Town, South Africa where he is a Senior Fellow of Multicultural Education. Throughout his career he has served as academic dean at Dartmouth College, Sarah Lawrence College, and Stanford University, and more recently, vice  president of City Year, a nonprofit organization that focuses on mentoring at-risk students, and founder of City Year in South Africa.

Global studies and public and community service students and faculty joined Ricks on Wednesday night for an ice cream social and community conversation.

Ricks shared with students his passion for working with young activists, his past experience co-creating civic engagement conferences and organizations, and his excitement for the potential that globally minded, community-oriented students possess.

Ricks shared the story of how he was involved in the foundation of the Campus Outreach Opportunity League, or COOL, in 1984. COOL formed in response to a lack of structured opportunities for university students to become engaged with their communities and carry out service in a thoughtful, organized way.

His friend and fellow student at Harvard University, Wayne Meisel, first conceptualized COOL as a way for college students across the country to become more involved in campus and community service and activism. To begin to spread his message, Meisel walked from Maine to Washington, D.C., sharing his passion for campus activism with university campuses and student groups along the way.

Ricks arrives at a critical moment in Providence College campus life. The Snapchat incident of this past week is extremely concerning; it has deeply hurt members of our student body and only further aggravates the racial divide that still exists between students.

In response, 300 students attended a campus meeting addressing the offensive photo and immediate steps are being taken by administration in an attempt to stop such incidents from happening again.

When events like these happen, and they have with some frequency since I arrived at PC, the power of united student voices that follows is impossible to ignore. What we are slowly learning is the dire need for a more inclusive educational experience that encompasses cultural competency and an awareness of one’s position in both Providence College and global communities.

Meisel, Ricks, and many others were at the forefront of a national student movement based on civic engagement, student leadership, and community-based learning.

The prevalence of these values is clear on our own campus in the form of global service-learning (GSL) courses. GSL is the product of the deep partnership that exists between the Feinstein Institute for Public Service and the Global Studies Department.

Students from different majors and areas of study should, if time and resources permit, consider applying for a GSL course.

These courses are well crafted and structured to be a mutually beneficial experience for Providence College students and our partners around the world.

They are an excellent way to diversify one’s education and become more aware of pressing global issues that matter for PC student life just as much as they matter in the bigger picture.

Ricks will only be on campus with us for a week, but his legacy of student activism and service preceded his arrival and will remain at PC when he returns to Cape Town. Global service-learning and community engagement should be a critical component of not only the Global Studies and Public and Community Service programs, but other areas of study as well.

GSL directly forces students out of their comfort zones and into cross-cultural interactions that have an incredible impact, and are much needed at PC right now.