The Central Role of Student Services

Posted on Mar 13, 2013

The comprehensive resources provided by student services are a key strength of residential colleges and universities. Student services are essential to the educational mission–not tangentially connected to the core of learning–and without them, one of the most powerful arguments for the continuation of residential education will be lost. The intentional integration of coursework and broad student services provides a full educational environment; increasing attention to student services creates an integrated field of experience across students’ curricular, residential, and social lives. After all, everything is education–every action and interaction is an opportunity for learning and cultivation. The question we must foster is: What is being cultivated?

The fullness of their education is expressed through students’ whole lives, through the ways in which they actually live. If we cannot create greater connections between traditional curricular activities and “extra-curricular” activities, we will have lost a great opportunity to foster communities of well-being and greater connection among our students.

As important as it is to create classroom environments in which students inquire deeply into meaning, connection, and purpose, we must also collectively pay attention to all the time students are not in class. Students are actually in classes only about 15 hours per week–leaving off sleep (if they sleep!), there remains about 100 hours per week. Many of these non-class-time hours are taken up with lab work, reading, and homework, but what of those hours not spent on activities directly related to courses? It is in these times that students interact with one another, establishing, in effect, a rich laboratory which engages their action and learning in their communities.

We must ask, and pay keen attention to, what students are cultivating during this time and how we can support their development. Certainly, for residential colleges and universities, this is a major question and challenge.

An example of an institution innovating in this area is Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP). A large state school with over 12,000 undergraduates, many of whom are first-generation college students, IUP has embraced the idea that schools create communities wherein education occurs in all aspects of students’ lives. They have created a system of “Living-Learning Communities” wherein students live in residential halls with a given theme and have faculty and staff mentors who help them with their topics. These communities are designed to extend learning beyond the classroom and model to students that their learning engages all aspects of their lives.

One of the newest communities, The Mindfulness Living Community, is spearheaded by ACMHE member Kim Weiner and will start in fall 2013. It will support contemplative modes of learning and demonstrate how these practices can “deepen students’ capacity for insight and reflection, reduce stress, cultivate compassion and increase learning of disciplines.” So persuasive were the arguments for this initiative that plans have been made to create quiet reflection/meditation rooms in every residential dorm on campus! To support the community, classes will be offered in mindfulness and yoga practice and a meditation room has already been established. Of the 20 advisory mentors for this community, 8 are faculty members (many of whom use contemplative practices in their classes) and 6 are graduate students in clinical psychology; the others come from all aspects of student services, e.g. the Interfaith Council, the Center for Health and Well-Being, etc. It is a wonderful example how we can work together to create integrated learning environments, establishing a rich opportunity for students to grow and learn.

This bold and innovative program is providing a powerful model for both the integration of contemplative practices in education and the recognition that all aspects of our students’ lives contribute to and can deepen their education. Let’s work to create a new integrated culture in which everyone is working together to provide a rich environment for the cultivation of learning, meaning, and purpose.

 

Daniel Barbezat is Professor of Economics at Amherst College and Executive Director of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. Over the past decade, he has become interested in how self-awareness and introspection can be used in post-secondary education, economic decision-making and creating and sustaining well-being. With the support of a Contemplative Practice Fellowship in 2008, he has developed courses that integrate contemplative exercises designed to enable students to gain deeper understanding and insight. His approach to these economic classes has been featured in the Boston Globe, the U.S. News & World Report, as well as on the NPR program “Here & Now.”

Along with experimental research on choice and awareness, he is currently editing a group of papers on examples of contemplative pedagogy across the disciplines with Arthur Zajonc, co-writing a book with Mirabai Bush on contemplative pedagogy, and writing a book entitled Wanting.

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