At the age of 18, I arrived at Amherst College in western Massachusetts from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. A bi-racial, Black, and Jewish kid from a working-class family who had just graduated from an inner-city public high school. As you might imagine, at first, I was a bit out of my element—both inside and outside of the classroom.
Although I loved Amherst, in some ways, it remained an uncomfortable place throughout my four years. Early on, it was the intellectual rigor it demanded, which was unlike any academic setting I faced up through high school. Over time, it came more from the social and cultural complexities associated with navigating very real socio-economic differences among the student body, as well as from being one of only 16 Black students in a class of over 400.
Fortunately, along the way, I realized that this discomfort and my differences actually made the journey richer and more rewarding. In fact, it helped to fuel and influence my intellectual awakening as I learned to think independently and critically, as well as write clearly and persuasively. Looking back, I recognize that Amherst saw something in me that I had yet to uncover about myself, which is why I always talk openly about being a beneficiary of affirmative action. For me, getting into Amherst was transformative—a door-opening opportunity that altered my life and career trajectory.
There are countless stories like mine that give meaning to the promise and potential of higher education. And whether it’s the changing demographics of our nation or our renewed focus as a country on racial equity or the growing necessity of lifelong learning, upskilling, and reskilling, now is the right time to have important discussions on unlocking the potential of higher education for learners from all walks of life and backgrounds. That is why I feel especially fortunate to begin hosting EDU: Live—a new monthly conversation series powered by 2U that will focus on issues of equity, access, and opportunity in higher education.
Drawing on my experiences at 2U, as well as my time working in and with the civil rights community, and serving on education-related, non-profit boards, I’ll dig in on the important and timely topics facing higher education with diverse leaders and influential speakers from academia, business, and civil society. Using EDU: Live as our platform, I’ll talk about opening doors of opportunity with those who have walked through them—and are using their positions to empower others to follow.
And who better to have as my first guest on EDU: Live than Dr. David Thomas, a friend and mentor, who is the president of Morehouse College and has dedicated his academic career and scholarship to the cause of access and equity in higher education and beyond. Mark your calendars and tune in live on 2U’s LinkedIn page next Wednesday, February 24 at 3 p.m. EST for what promises to be an engaging conversation.
I’m also excited to share that my next two guests on EDU: Live will be Lynn Wooten, president of Simmons University, on March 24 during Women’s History Month, and Dr. Alvin Tillery, founder of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern University, on April 28.
How well higher education responds to today’s challenges—and drives greater equity, access, and opportunity—will shape the economic and opportunity landscape for years to come. I couldn’t have imagined my journey from Amherst would lead me to host EDU: Live, but I’m thrilled to spark the type of dialogue that can make it possible for more learners to come.
I hope you’ll join me.
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