One of my favorite quotes is “We never touch people so lightly that we do not leave a trace” by Peggy Tabor Millin. Although this does not define community, it makes me pause because every action or interaction we have shapes the way we move through our lives. Sense of community has been foundational in my life experiences. Growing up I lived in a small town, went to a parochial K-6 school, knew my classmates in high school, and never lived more than 10 minutes away from my family. . .until I moved to North Carolina. Moving to North Carolina was one of the best and most difficult things that I have ever done. With the narrow understanding of community that I had been privileged to, leaving seemed almost unbearable until through experiences I began to change my definition and understanding of what community means.
My world consists of multiple communities; family, academia, faith, friends, and service. Community, to me, is about belonging and feeling valued. Unfortunately in our world today, communities seem to hold exclusivity in many regards. Community should not be narrowly defined, if it is it becomes an elite group. Sense of community is what I strive to build in each of my classes. My major responsibilities consist of teaching mathematics methods course to undergraduates. At first this task may not seem conducive to building community, but I believe that our students must value one another, and value the students they will be working with. In the classroom, content is important – but relationships help individuals grow more deeply. I also have the privilege of teaching a directed elective course where we use mathematics to look critically at social justice issues. The feature image is a picture taken from service we completed in Harlan, KY. This experience not only allowed students to experience another community, but helped to create a community within our class based on shared experience. The richness of the experience was irreplaceable.
Community can be defined in a myriad of ways, but for me community is authentic, compassionate, purposeful and accepting. If we remove the humanistic element from what we are doing, little will change. To build a sense of community, the human element must always be at the forefront.