Coming back to community

What Matters

We are returning to campus, working, learning, discovering—to some semblance of an earlier routine, and again sharing space with others. But it is not the spaces that we have missed; it is community. Communities often need spaces to thrive, but they are about much more than the places that help define them.

We have missed the fullness of community during our pandemic isolation. Perhaps this is why there has been so much attention to giving to communities, and with communities.

We seem to appreciate the value of communities better as the pandemic has made us more aware of their importance while also revealing their vulnerabilities. We have seen a surge of mutual aid efforts, community foundation funds, and all manner of innovations that just a couple of years ago might have been seen as inadequately systematic, unlikely to scale, or unprepared to absorb significant resources.

Just consider our research on philanthropy’s response to COVID-19, Professor Tyrone Freeman’s assessment of MacKenzie Scott’s giving to the HBCU community in historical context, and the forthcoming release of new research on Donors of Color.

The idea of community plays a fundamental role in the scholarship we have used to understand the evolution of our societies, and it has played an often underappreciated role as a counterbalance to large scale systemic and policy changes that modernize countries.

Like democracy or freedom or justice, community also is one of those contested concepts that can be wooly and difficult to pin down, but it is still one that we cannot do without.

Generally, community describes something that is like an extended family where each of us is known as a unique person with special characteristics, not just as a bearer of impersonal rights and responsibilities that come, for example, with being a citizen.

Some notion of community is so widely accepted and generally valued that the word is used unproblematically even by our polarized political tribes. One could say that most people love the idea of community, though we likely think of very different communities when we name ones we cherish.

Even Facebook and other social media giants contend that their vast global networks create value because they support communities, calling the rules they use to regulate online conduct “community standards.”

Even more expansive is the term “international community,” which refers to understandings in international affairs we share by virtue of being members of humankind. And during disasters that expose far-off strangers to perils that highlight our common humanity, that connection makes itself evident in the humanitarian impulse to help.

When we use the word community, we usually also imply that there is something positive going on.  People are participating; they are being seen, their voice is making a difference, and they belong meaningfully. However, authoritarian, hierarchical communities do little of this as they perpetuate rigid differences in power and promote exclusion, reflecting the reality of a “bad civil society.”

Forewarned that we should beware of sneaking in good feelings when we describe communities, we should also note that community is usually small enough in scale so that each person knows others, and is known in turn, personally. There is at least potential in the scale of a community to participate meaningfully in ways that shape how one is seen by those who matter to us.

Consider the small-scale intimacy of a classroom community as one of the most effective ways of learning. It is precisely because when a classroom serves as community, it is personally immersive, including the fact that our minds and bodies are in the same space, coming to understand knowledge through a collaborative process not unlike the one through which knowledge is created. That sitting still may not be the best way to discover together should make us wonder why we regiment our bodies so.

A seminar of 20 students provides an opportunity for much more meaningful engagement with the instructor and fellow students than a lecture hall with a hundred or more students, though being with others and seeing how their faces and bodies respond to what is happening is probably not without value.

Online we have the technical capacity to accommodate tens of thousands of students in a course conducted asynchronously. Where is the community? There are social media-like features to enable interactivity, and the best ones may be those that give learners insights into how others are experiencing the same material.

When faces of a class are together on one screen, we can approximate being in the same space. Often the convenience of not having to hurl ourselves through space on wheeled and winged contraptions is worth missing some of the elements of being embodied together.

Some think that this will be our new normal, as cost and climate impact lead us to be more deliberate about our trips. I will choose my trips based on whether they are needed to advance significant relationships that add value to the communities I care about.

We relish the return to campus because of community. Our small, intimate “family-sized” school is part of a great public institution, the kind that educates the vast majority of Americans. It harbors and nurtures a veritable hive of communities—of scholars, students, staff, alumni and friends.

If the intimacy of a small liberal arts college reflects the promise of an education that opens the mind and embraces the person, what often gets obscured at larger universities is that they succeed because they contain a treasury of communities. Systems and processes are key to gathering so many people together, but it is their contributions to community, not the brute fact of scale, that makes them important.

It is through smaller communities, like majors and social clubs, that students discover what they will contribute to society. At the same time, scholars advance the frontiers of knowledge through disciplinary and interdisciplinary communities of discovery that span the campus and the globe. They are joined by those who dedicate their work to the institution so it can preserve the many dimensions of communal life on campus for both current and future generations.

Our public universities succeed not because they deliver knowledge at scale but because they nurture a great diversity of communities that facilitate learning and discovery as they feed off the possibilities that emerge from their proximity to each other.

As you see, we expect a lot from community, which at the end of the day is made up of individuals who bind themselves to each other. Sometimes, for good reason, we worry that communities can limit individual freedom and constrain choice. But as I return to the communities I have missed, I will appreciate how I have been shaped by them and ask myself how I can help them thrive.

My treasured communities have presented me with choices I would not have had without them. And that is what our school’s community strives to provide to all who join us.

Best regards,

Dean Amir Pasic

Amir Pasic
Eugene R. Tempel Dean

Tips for students returning to a new normal

IUPUI Campus Center

By Kellie Alexander, B.A.’21

The term “return to work” has been circulating around as we prepare for a post-pandemic lifestyle. However, we are not returning to work; we never left.

We are transitioning back in person but in a different, constantly changing, hybrid manner that has us all anxious and leading with safety measures like never before. As students, we did not stop going to class. Instead of rushing to campus, fighting for parking, and then walking a mile to sit in a desk seat, we flipped on our laptops and drank coffee from bed while watching a lecture. Work we had may have changed, but it never ended.

Kellie AlexanderReturning to campus is something many of us dreamed of, myself included. Freshmen dreamed of stepping onto campus for their first official class and graduates dreamed of having an in-person graduation to celebrate with loved ones. Unprecedented times led all those dreams to take a back seat while we as students did the best we could, with what we had, where we were.

However, now we have a chance to get those dreams back, at least the ones we can have right now. We can pack our bags and get a to-go coffee for the walk to class. We can pack a mask for safe keeping and bring back the life to our IU Indianapolis campus.

Our dreams of having a college life back to complete normality might still take a little while, but with the safety and guidance of our community officials, we can make a start. When heading back to campus and to the IU Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, I have some tips to share with you that may help in making the transition a little easier.

  • Go see the third floor of University Hall. The school missed you and our staff and faculty cannot wait to either meet you for the first time, or the 51st time.
  • Attend events. Whether the event is still virtual or has begun to take place in-person, help bring the Jaguar pride back to life by showing up and showing support.
  • Still engage our distance learners. Time on Zoom allowed us all to engage with audiences that were miles away. Let’s keep that going and keep our virtual audiences involved with what is happening in Indianapolis.
  • Ask for help. Coming back to campus full-time may be difficult. Ask for help from your Lilly Family School of Philanthropy community. They are here to help you succeed.
  • Continue to be flexible. For some students, we were still on campus even during the pandemic. However, mask wearing, gathering, and health guidelines have all changed. Stay up to date with the latest information by checking your IU email or looking at the IU Indianapolis Restart site. This can help you know the most current news.
  • Have fun! Being on campus is an incredible experience. IU Indianapolis comes to life with fairs, tabling, and free giveaways (hopefully free pizza can come back?). Stay connected and stay safe as we transition into an unknown new chapter.
  • But most of all, take care of you! No matter if you are transitioning back to campus or keeping a fully online schedule, daily demands are stressful and can be overwhelming. Take time for yourself and check in on how you are doing. Your Lilly Family School of Philanthropy community is here. We are in this together!

Kellie Alexander is currently pursuing her accelerated master’s degree in philanthropic studies. Kellie also received a minor in community health, certificate in philanthropic fundraising, and was named an IU Indianapolis Top 10 Student and William M. Plater Civic Medallion Recipient in 2021.

Celebrating Black Philanthropy Month

hands joining together

We are proud to recognize the efforts of Black Philanthropy Month and the initiative's work to showcase the important work done by Black philanthropists, scholars, practitioners, and champions.

It aligns directly with the school's own values to make our field more equitable and just. To that end, we have gathered a variety of resources to aid in the discussion, advocacy, and future of Black philanthropy .

We will be adding new content throughout the month, so check back often for the latest updates.

Visiting campus?

Here are the latest requirements and information to help your visit go smoothly.

News and events

  • The Washington Post quoted Una Osili in an article about corporate giving for racial and social justice efforts. 
  • The Chronicle of Philanthropy published an article by the Women’s Philanthropy Institute’s Jacqueline Ackerman and Tessa Skidmore about Melinda French Gates and MacKenzie Scott joining forces to increase support for women and girls.
  • Join us, in partnership with CCS Fundraising, for a webinar to mark the release of the Everyday Donors of Color report. The new study provides a much-needed update and synthesis of research on diverse donors—preparing the philanthropic sector for a demographically changed future.

    Join Dr. Una Osili, associate dean for research and international programs, and a panel of nonprofit experts and leaders to learn more about the significant trends that are reshaping our understanding of donors of color.

    Learn more and register