A Community Dialogue Explores SUA’s Founding Principles

April 20, 2021
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Jason Goulah stands in front of Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies bulletin board
Photo by Jamie Moncrief / DePaul University

Two decades after SUA opened and in the midst of an uncertain and divisive time in the world, the university community gathered online to discuss founder Daisaku Ikeda’s ideas and putting them into action on campus and beyond.

“A Community Dialogue on Creating a Culture of Global Citizenship at SUA,” featured a presentation by Jason Goulah, professor and director of the Institute for Daisaku Ikeda Studies in Education at DePaul University in Chicago and member of SUA’s Board of Trustees, followed by a panel of community representatives reflecting on his comments and small-group discussions. The April 2 event was organized by the 20th Anniversary Engagement Subcommittee.

Goulah, who has been researching Ikeda’s work since the 1990s, noted that education has been at the core of Ikeda’s wide-ranging thinking since he published his first essay in 1949. Those ideas have led to the founding of 13 schools, two universities, and a women’s college in seven countries.

Ikeda views education as “the unparalleled font of true human becoming and genuine, almost existential, happiness,” said Goulah. The happiness Ikeda is referring to isn’t hedonistic pleasure or nihilistic satisfaction, he said, but “the courage, appreciation, hope and joy born from realizing one’s unlimited capacity to create meaning from both learning and life’s realities.”

In Ikeda’s view, “being born human does not make one a human being,” quoted Goulah. It requires what Ikeda calls ningen kyōiku, or “human education,” and the tenacious application of its principles. That people need human education to become human beings cannot be overemphasized in terms of its importance in Ikeda’s approach to education, said Goulah.

Goulah distilled Ikeda’s approach to human education into the four interlocking commitments of dialogue, global citizenship, value creation, and creative coexistence. As SUA’s mission is to foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living contributive lives, Goulah focused the remainder of his talk on the development and impact of Ikeda’s notion of global citizenship.

Building on His Predecessors

Ikeda’s continued focus on the principle of global citizenship is influenced by the work of Japanese educators Tsunesaburo Makiguchi and Josei Toda, as well as his personal experiences. In 1903, Makiguchi proposed the idea of “world people” as part of education that fosters a sense of belonging and commitment to one’s local community, country, and the world. Nearly three decades later, he conceived of a sōka, or “value-creating,” pedagogy, the essence of which, Goulah states, “Ikeda has advanced globally and memorialized as the foundational ethos and namesake of the Soka schools and universities he founded.” Toda, Ikeda’s mentor, also promoted a cosmopolitan ethic with his unique concept of chikyū minzoku shugi, or what has been translated as “one-worldism.”

“We see Ikeda repeatedly engaging with the principle of global citizenship, always deepening our understanding of its characteristics and illuminating its importance not only for ameliorating life’s most pressing issues, but also for fully developing ourselves as human beings,” said Goulah. “He is constantly revisiting it, reframing and making it current and necessary for the times.”

Ikeda frequently connects the idea of global citizenship to the realities of our time in history. On a visit to Chicago in the 1960s, Ikeda witnessed an incident of racial injustice in Lincoln Park. “He invoked the ethic of global citizenship in that moment,” said Goulah, seeing its potential “to abolish racial discrimination, unjust treatment and the prejudice rooted deeply in people’s hearts.” Another example: Ikeda, who also is a poet, invoked the ethic of global citizenship in a poem in response to the race riots sparked by the 1991 beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers.

Speaking at Teachers College, Columbia University in 1996, in what is often considered the founding lecture of SUA, Ikeda identified three characteristics of global citizenship—wisdom, courage, and compassion. While the development of wisdom and compassion can also be seen in other thinkers’ notions of global citizenship, Goulah said Ikeda’s inclusion of courage is unique and important. Wisdom and compassion will not be enough if we don’t have the courage to enact them in our lives.

“Our own capacity for global citizenship is fundamentally hindered by fear,” said Goulah. Ikeda understands that it takes courage “to develop a practice of speaking to the complex individual human being right in front of us and challenge the spirit of abstracting people into monolithic groups.”

At the conclusion of his remarks, Goulah summed up how we can leverage Ikeda’s interlocking ideas and ideals to create value in our shared world. “With dialogue as our lodestar, creative coexistence and a better age are always possible at every moment, especially with young people at the forefront,” said Goulah. “The power to transform the times comes always from achieving a transformation right where you are. How can I, in my own way, as I am, right here where I am, and with the people in front of me, cultivate the wisdom, courage, and compassion of a global citizen? Asking this question is an ongoing invitation for all of us.”

Embodying Mr. Ikeda’s Principles on Campus

Following the presentation, a panel of three members of the SUA community explored how SUA’s mission is expressed on campus before participants gathered in small groups for further discussion.

Karen Moran Jackson, assistant professor of educational psychology and assessment, noted that while we think about a school as a place of cognitive development, it can “also be a place of empathy development, and developing an understanding of your emotional capacity for yourself and for connecting with others.” She invited participants to consider ways to make conversations that foster connection as part of everyday life on campus and in classrooms.

For Jacqueline Cid, assistant director of student organizations and inclusion programs, developing the wisdom, compassion, and courage Ikeda defined is not without challenges. “How do you have the courage to not fear or deny differences? For me, it’s an internal process,” she said. “And asking myself how do I engage with folks who are hurting or in pain, or in a place of confusion. It is knowing I am in a place where I can have those conversations and be respectful when someone else is not.”

Subina Thapaliya ‘22 said encouragement from her professors and the examples of other students have helped her transform since she arrived at SUA from Nepal. Thapaliya initially was self-conscious when she was the only person with her background in a situation, and felt awkward about what she didn’t know as well as pressured to represent her culture.

“With time, my appreciation of the unique views brought to the table by my friends, each of whom had a unique background, inspired me to bring ideas from my own,” she said. “My appreciation of the unique individuality of my friends even released me from the burden of being under pressure all the time to represent my identity. I became comfortable being myself, and it helped me see the person in front of me as a unique individual devoid of any identity tags that they resemble.”