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UWC Day 2021 ARDEI Update

24 January 2022

Re-imagining the UWC Dream - the reality of creating safe and inclusive campuses

by Ken Kuguru, UWC alumnus and member of the UWC ARDEI Steering Group

I pack my suitcase filled with hopes and dreams and expectations. I picture the adventures on mountain tops, the multi-colored flags of the nationalities of my roommates, the smiling faces that share my excitement and naivety. I arrive on a campus jet lag fighting with my nerves and my excitement - faces smiling and waving with a strange familiarity but of just strangers.

This is the narrative of many UWC students embarking on their journey to their first year at UWC. 

This idea of utopia - diversity, peace and understanding - painted during weeks and months of preparation and guidance. Then the bubble pops, and the grit and resilience begins to develop as they realise the reality of academics, homesickness and interpersonal challenges wrapped in hormones. The idyllic vision blurs. What comes into focus is a cacophony of labels, languages and clashes of the symbols of culture, norms and values. 

I was appointed to the UWC ARDEI Steering Committee in Feb 2021 and wanted to leverage my 20+ years of experience in Asia, the U.S. and Africa to help develop the UWC system. Prior to joining the Steering Committee, I sat on the Expedia Diversity & Inclusion Global Council. We helped Expedia navigate through recognising and understanding its own areas of underrepresentation, and how to address those gaps to lead the sector not just in tech, but  in equality, diversion and inclusion. By joining the UWC ARDEI Steering Committee, I wanted to translate this more corporate experience to support UWC through this pivotal time and help it move from difficult conversations to actions.

As a UWC Alumni and parent, I have seen first hand the images of utopia melt away. I have witnessed the struggles students grapple with. Behind my rose-colored alumni memories, I realised not only did we need to DO more as an organisation but BE more for our students, our staff and the communities we exist within. I thus committed myself to help put in place processes, systems and structures in the battle against systemic racism;  championing diversity, equality and inclusion within the system. 

As our committee begins to take that scary plunge to unearth the parts of our movement we have not yet addressed, I remember the student at the core. 

How are we RE-IMAGINING a UWC that isn't idyllic but a version of reality that: 

  • is SAFE for difficult discussions and the exploration of the difficult issues that plague the world. 
  • LISTENS and RESPONDS to the community that is internally responsive and safe. 

During my time with the ARDEI Steering Committee, we have had to grapple with many hard questions such as: 

  • What are we re-imagining as a movement?
  • How are we really viewing our support? How do those most affected view it?
  • What is the role that UWC plays as an educator? How are we not only teaching, but how are we changing as a system in order to not perpetuate injustice?
  • How are we creating safe spaces for all students and staff? 
  • How are we facilitating the hard conversations ?

We are only at the beginning of a journey. This RE-IMAGINATION will take time and healing but we look

Ken Kurugu, UWC Alumnus and Member of the UWC ARDEI Steering Group of the UWC International Board

forward to including the movement at large. 

For the future students who pack their bags with hopes and expectations and dream of a UWC experience - we are committed to building a UWC that will allow you to experience both joy and struggle, and support you in the manifestation of that journey.