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Dean's blog: Good Trouble

This week’s blog focuses on Good Trouble, a concept taken from the essay that John Lewis wrote before his death. (For anyone who isn’t as familiar with him or the quote, you can also get additional context from this Brookings Institute article).

The blog features excerpts from Mason Environmental Science and Policy assistant professor, Karen Akerlof’s New Student Convocation Address for George Mason University.


Italic text from Dr. Akerlof’s speech on Friday, August 19, 2022:
Your parents and teachers probably told you to stay out of trouble … of the bad variety. I’m here to talk to you … about good trouble.

As we come together today to celebrate the start of your educational journey at Mason, it is an opportune moment to think about what Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis meant when he urged us all to get in good trouble.

Your horizon will expand over the next few years as you are exposed to new people, ideas, and skills. But here, today with this convocation, you are also being inducted into a larger community, in which each of you play an important role.” (use quotes for the newsletter, not in the actual blog post online)

These years can be a time for YOU to decide what positive social changes you would like to see in your community and what you can do to help achieve them-- whether on campus in your hometown, or at the national and international level.
So -- what does it mean to get in good trouble? What does it mean to you? And what does it mean for what you choose to do with your time at Mason?

Notably -- you do not have to wait until you are back here for graduation to start thinking about—and acting on—the ways in which you want to make an impact. 
Both in and out of the classroom, this university is a place where you can explore these questions, work with others, and make your voices heard. There is no one path --it will look different for each one of you.

For John Lewis, getting in good trouble meant voting, actively participating in democracy, and speaking out against injustice. For me personally, the questions that inspire my research and teaching at Mason are not only related to how we improve our capacity to use science to make better governance decisions about our future, but also who decides what evidence is needed and what forms of knowledge count? We are experiencing a period of massive scientific, technological, and environmental change that will alter society in ways that we can only yet begin to imagine.

The decisions we make during this time could make our communities more equitable and just … or heighten inequalities well beyond what we experience today. As science and technology increasingly pervade society, how do we democratize their creation and governance? Who is included, and who is sidelined?”

Last month, “President Biden signed the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act.The law in part directs NSF to grow use-inspired, translational research and to make educational opportunities in science and technology more broadly available across the country.

Universities like Mason are at the forefront:
Doing research differently – breaking down academic silos to work across the natural and social sciences and partner directly with communities and decision-makers to address questions of societal consequence.

And teaching differently to ensure all students develop the skills to not just create new knowledge, but do it in collaboration with people who have different values, lived experiences, and ways of knowing.”


Dr. Akerlof’s speech had me consider how our entire science community could be inspired by Lewis’ remarks, both what we have done thus far and what is to come.

Our Mason scientists are studying the massive scientific, technological, and environmental changes that she references, whether it be climate change and biodiversity loss; the growth, importance, collection, and thorough analysis of data coupled with increased computing capacity; or the exponential growth of new scientific knowledge in such fields as materials science, biological science and chemistry, space exploration, geosciences, even neuroscience and artificial intelligence.

Leading research institutions like George Mason University are actively working to address questions of societal consequence. In May 2022, we partnered with the Board on Environmental Change and Society at the National Academies, and American Geophysical Union’s Thriving Earth Exchange to co-host an event titled “Co-Producing Knowledge with Communities: Equity in Federal Research Programs.”

More than 800 people participated in the conversation with White House Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Dr. Alondra Nelson, and within an interactive community forum where audience members both asked questions and spoke about their own experiences, answering the questions “What does equitable co-production look like in practice?” and “Optimally, what should it look like?”

Now we can consider Dr. Akerlof’s words: “What does ‘get in Good Trouble’ mean to you? What does it mean for what you choose to do with your time here at Mason?” …. and “How can we support your efforts to ‘get in Good Trouble’?”    

As the Director of the Office of Community Engagement and Civic Learning (CECiL) at Mason, Kristen Wright and her team lead our university’s transdisciplinary effort to bring faculty, staff, and students together to discuss ‘Good Trouble’ at Mason.

Wright shared, “I think the most important aspects of the Good Trouble work is that it’s both action-oriented and centers building community amongst students and faculty engaged in changemaking work.”

“There’s a need for action and strategy but there’s also a great need for support and rest in this work and connecting folks along the shared work of Good Trouble centers both really beautifully.” Wright explained.

Let’s explore ways to get into Good Trouble.

Visit the dean's blog for more insights from Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm.