By Shalomita Maleachi ‘17
As the Center for Student Development transforms into the Office of Student Life, new faces are appearing on the third floor of Lane. One of these new faces belongs to Dr. Nicholas Rowe, and though he is no stranger to Gordon—under Jud Carlberg, previous president of Gordon, Dr. Rowe served as the special assistant to the president on diversity—he is re-entering the scene as the Dean for Student Engagement, in addition to his post as associate professor in the history faculty.
Originally born in the UK, Dr. Rowe moved to the US in his teens. He studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate student at MIT and went on to obtain his Ph.D. in history at Boston College. Prior to his tenure at Gordon, he spent some time teaching at Eastern Nazarene College and after his tenure at Gordon, he spent ten years at St. Augustine College of South Africa. His wide international experience has gifted him with great insight as to what fundamentally makes things tick and what make things break, across differing socio-historical contexts.
Self-described as a peacebuilder and a “sworn enemy of any foolishness (even self-generated) that prevents one from doing what they were born to do,” Dr. Rowe values precise language—both literally and metaphorically speaking. Beyond accurate terminology, Dr. Rowe believes that there is a great need for “cultural fluency”, the ability to speak across (and through) difference for the sake of the common good, over individual sticking points.
It is with cultural fluency in mind that Dr. Rowe steps into Student Life. The need for it, he states, has not changed since he helped initiate the New City Scholars program—now known as the Clarendon Scholars program—half a decade ago. It has just become more acute, as the current political tone and recent events in the USA indicate. With a lack of cultural fluency, tensions along the lines of difference have grown, at points erupting into violence both verbal and physical. The national discussion about police brutality, within which movements such as Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter clash head to head while speaking fundamentally different languages (while, ironically, both being driven by fundamentally similar desires and fears), is a poignant example of this.
To encourage cultural fluency at Gordon, Dr. Rowe, along with others within Student Life, are looking to launch a project aiming to teach students how to engage in respectful and meaningful conversation within a diverse context. This project is called “Come to the Table”, and it aims to provide space for small groups of students, led by a peer trained in facilitation, to come together, talk, and build relationships across racial and ethnic lines—all over a meal.
When asked about what might happen if we fail to achieve cultural fluency by the end of the 20 years, Dr. Rowe grins a little before paraphrasing Queen Victoria: “The possibility of failure does not exist.” Admitting that he is an “optimist by nature,” Dr. Rowe believes that even though not everyone will choose to participate in this work, so long as there are those who will remain “as witnesses to the fact there is something better,” hope endures.