I Am All The Way In

Friday, January 6, 2017

“When David Malone [Director of Duke Service-Learning] told me we were going to be talking about ‘the arrogance of help,’ I said I am in, I am all the way in,” said Dean of Arts and Sciences Valerie Ashby. Ashby was on a panel convened Dec. 7th to probe the many aspects of service. Malone moderated the conversation, which was in fact entitled The Arrogance of Help, and invited Dean Ashby to open the conversation with personal observations.

“I'm not going to talk a lot about help, but I am going to talk about arrogance,” she said. “There was a time when I thought I knew a lot, and I thought I knew a lot about you before I even knew you, or I thought I knew a lot about a situation just because I had brushed by it. Or I thought I knew what you should do with yourself because I had been in a similar situation, and I figured that whatever worked for me was what I should apply to you,” she told the audience of more than 60 students, faculty and staff.

Dean Ashby went on to say that the beauty of getting older is that she now knows she doesn’t really know anything. “The idea that I could possibly know you without engaging you in some way where I am asking a hundred million questions and really having a relationship with you is a mistaken one. This is not just about when we go out in service—I appreciate the service aspect of it—but this is a way of living, this is about how we go through the world. So what I will tell you is that it is a decision I make to be more conscious…to keep an open mind.”

Ashby was joined on the panel by Megan McCurley, America Reads/America Counts@Duke Program Coordinator, Bill Wright-Swadel, Executive Director of the Duke University Career Center, Eric Mlyn, Director of Duke Engage, Brandon Hudson, Director of Urban Hope in Durham, Sam Miglarese, Director of Community Engagement for Duke Office of Durham and Regional Affairs, and Liliana Paredes, chair of Romance Studies at Duke.

Each panelist had a perspective on the complexities of going out into the community, whether locally or globally, to “help,” and some had insight on unintended consequences. Some students asked questions pertaining to how to build a career around service after graduation and how conversations like these could be built into the curriculum so every student at Duke develops an awareness around how to be in community with humility and openness to learning.

Dean Ashby closed by saying, “One of my mentors told me to leave it better than you found it, and try not to hurt anybody, so if it's a day in a community or if it's a week in a community or if it's a relationship with somebody, leave whatever you had with them better than you found it, and try your best not to hurt anyone. It sounds simple like what you would tell a three or five-year-old, but it gets harder the more engaged you get with people. Just think about, did I leave that thing, that conversation, that whatever, better than I found it, and in that process did I attempt not to hurt anybody? Now you won't always meet that challenge, because sometimes you'll hurt in ways that are not intentional, but say to yourself, ‘did I attempt to be mindful and humble and open?’”