Elon University prides itself on the concept of global citizenship. This is evident on homepage of Elon’s website, which boasts about being globally engaged and ranking No. 1 in Study Abroad and says that Elon students learn in every corner of the world. But I’m not convinced that learning in every corner of the world gets at the depth of what it means to be a global citizen.
To be a citizen does not mean to occupy a space, which is what being at every corner of the world describes. In fact, occupying space by being at every corner of the world serves as a description for imperial powers who force their ways of living on others while stripping communities of resources and culture. On the contrary, to be a citizen, socially, is to be a valuable member of a community with a voice that will be heard.
Being a valuable member entails that an individual has something to offer to the community, but it also means the community accepts and supports the individual’s value. Unfortunately, many of us around the world are relegated to second-class citizenship as we are not valued.
This devaluing of the individual leads to being silenced — a silencing that manifests itself as injustice and oppression. Even though there are those who are socially second-class global citizens, others are accepted, supported and valued. These individuals, if they are to be citizens, must be concerned about the development and prosperity of their community and the members within that community.
This aspect of being a citizen, being concerned for the community and the members of it, shifts the citizen’s perspective from self to collective. Citizenship is not simply about the expression of personal values and goals but about such an expression being rooted in what is best for those within a given community — in this case, a global community.
This begs the question: if we live in a global context where oppression is as prevalent as oxygen, can one be a global citizen without a desire for restorative social justice and equity for those who have been devalued and therefore silenced? The citizen has an understanding that the silencing of others in the community is not only oppressive to that individual but also detrimental to the community that misses out on opportunities for growth and development due to the denial of diversity.
One must make the decision: Will I be a global citizen working towards social justice, or will I be a colonizer voyaging from nation to nation, having my values and my voice be centered at the marginalization of others? If Elon is serious about producing global citizens, Elon must also be serious about developing minds that are inter-culturally intelligent and hearts that are devoted to social justice.