Volume 18 • Issue 1
Southwestern @ Georgetown
New student life initiatives enrich the student experience at Southwestern
Building Community
Most people think that student life on a college campus is all about parties, road trips, sports and staying up all night. While these are popular activities, they are only a small part of the broad spectrum of students’ non-academic experiences. In fact, student life outside the classroom is an integral component of the educational experience at Southwestern University. Academic life and student life share a symbiotic relationship; lessons learned both inside and outside the classroom broaden a student’s view of the world and of his or her place within it.

While the Division of Student Life addresses basic needs such as food, shelter, health and safety, much of the focus is on student growth, student learning and community building. “We hope to complement academics and extend learning beyond the classroom by developing partnerships with faculty to create opportunities to integrate academic and student life,” says Jerry Brody, vice president for student life. Student organizations, intramural and collegiate athletics, social activities, religious life, counseling services and career services enrich the student experience by increasing personal and professional development as well as facilitating a sense of community.

Student life administrators at other colleges echo Brody’s point of view. “Student life is critical to the modern collegiate experience. Especially with a generation of students that seems to have been nurtured to the point of sheltering, a holistic college-life experience allows students to learn both practical life skills and practical application of classroom knowledge,” explains David Wagner, director of student activities for Hendrix College in Conway, Ark.

“Student life is critical to the co-curricular life of the college. The variety of learning opportunities developed and presented out of the classroom enhances, expands and extends the learning that occurs in the classroom,” states Kelsel Thompson, director of student life at Austin College in Sherman, Texas.

“Also, many students’ most significant connections to the college occur through their student life experiences.”

The challenge for student life administrators is to keep student life programming fresh and to accommodate diverse and changing generational tastes.

For small, residential campuses like Southwestern, Hendrix and Austin College, the dual purposes of student life are key to students’ development and happiness during their college years.

The challenge for student life administrators is to keep student life programming fresh and to accommodate diverse and changing generational tastes. Programming that students rave about one year may flop the next, as there are few things more variable than what is fun, fashionable or hip to college students.

Southwestern’s Student Life Office has undertaken major steps to improve student life at the University in ways that will not only provide the variety of programming students desire, but also complement the in-class academic experiences of students.

Student Activities Initiatives

“The student life enhancement that we began a year ago was the direct result of input from students and faculty,” Brody says. “We went to residence halls, the Commons, and to student organizations and asked students what they liked, what they didn’t like and, if they could change one thing, what would it be? We heard a series of needs and requests from our students and the new programs are a direct result of that student input.”

Top on the list of student requests was making the Southwestern campus a place where students truly wanted to stay for social activities. “I would like to see our school grow to a point that people didn’t have the desire to go into Austin or out of town on the weekend,” says sophomore Taylor Spalla. “By continuing to enrich student life and student activities on campus, Southwestern could become a one-stop locale where all student needs and entertainment could be provided.”

Spalla’s opinion is one echoed by many on campus, including the administration. It also played heavily into the new student activities initiative for the 2005-2006 school year. Friday Night Live, Cinematic Saturday and Late Night Robertson Center are some of the key programs comprising the new initiatives meant to offer students more diverse and exciting social outlets on campus.

The response to this new programming has been very positive. Nearly 200 students attended each of the Friday Night Live performances during the last year and the success of this particular effort even surprised the staff. “I don’t think there’s a person in Student Life who would disagree with me in saying that the success of Friday Night Live exceeded our best hopes,” Brody says.

The Large Act Concert program, which brings nationally known musicians to Southwestern, started last April with the band New Found Glory. Students opted to turn this event into a fundraising opportunity that benefited victims of Hurricane Katrina. This September, Southwestern brought Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Wyclef Jean to campus for a concert that drew 850 students, faculty, staff, townspeople and even a few alumni. “I came back for the Wyclef concert because Southwestern is a smaller campus and getting to see Wyclef perform here is much more personal and exciting than seeing him play in a larger venue,” says Robert Kneisley ’06.

Not only was the Wyclef concert a major student life event for the University, but it also furthered University efforts to foster a more diverse campus community. A multi-faceted performer, Wyclef’s music transverses musical boundaries and draws upon a broad ethnic musical heritage. “Wyclef’s music cannot be labeled as solely hip-hop because it pulls in elements of rap, rock, reggae and R&B,” says Laura Miller, student activities coordinator. “He played everything from Led Zeppelin to Bob Marley to his current hit with Shakira.”

Pinsky Speaks
Above: Grammy Award winner Wyclef Jean performed at the Corbin J. Robertson center in September.
Below: Students got a chance to hang out with Wyclef on his tour bus before the show.
Pinsky Speaks

“Southwestern students do not all come from the same places or have the same interests—and that’s part of what makes SU so great,” says senior Terrenee Knight. “I feel that more diverse offerings are a great way for overall student life to grow, and I believe that it is already moving in that direction. It is only right that diverse choices in student life be part of the SU experience.”

Friday Night Live also is bringing more diverse programming to campus this year. “This semester will feature everything from championship break dancing and slam poetry to comedians and rock and country music bands,” says Jaime Woody, associate dean for student life.

In addition to increasing diversity in campus programming, student life is working to increase the diversity of campus organizations. Currently, University staff are helping a group of African-American students start a chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA)—a predominately black sorority—on campus. AKA will have its first recruitment in January.

“Southwestern is an amazing university, but one of its setbacks is its lack of racial diversity. Having a predominantly black sorority on campus will open up so many doors and, hopefully, convince more students of color to apply to the University,” says first-year student Crystal Jackson. “Greek life is a very important part of the college experience, but when a school does not have a chapter that caters to your needs, it can be disappointing. Hopefully, the starting of AKA will be just the beginning of minority sororities and fraternities on the Southwestern campus.”

Brody shares this sentiment, saying, “Bringing diversity to our campus is important and we are doing so by adding diversity in our programming, hiring and training.”

While understanding and appreciating differences is fundamental to the educational experience of Southwestern students, it is equally important that students feel a sense of community and pride in their University. For years, Southwestern University athletics shouldered much of the burden in advancing campus spirit. Now, one of the recent initiatives, the Pirate Bike Program, has also served as a positive community builder. With the generous support of alumni, trustees and a Georgetown resident, the University was able to purchase bright yellow Pirate Bikes for on-campus use by the Southwestern community. The program helps everyone get around campus quicker and fosters a stronger community identity.

Students who create new organizations—as well as those who take advantage of existing campus organizations—also create leadership opportunities and are key to much of the success of Student Life’s programs and activities. For instance, members of the University Programming Council (UPC) play a large part in helping organize and run student events like the Large Act Concert and Friday Night Live and have a great learning experience.

Southwestern @ Georgetown
The Cove: A place for laughter and hard work.

“It has been amazing planning concerts with nationally touring acts. There is so much that goes on during a show that I never even thought about,” says UPC member and sophomore Nadia Alareksoussi. “UPC is an amazing organization that allows its members to be part of the entire process from the research to the booking of an act to the publicity and the event logistics.” She continues, “Last year with New Found Glory the feedback was fine, but we know we could have done better. This year with Wyclef, we had amazing feedback and it gave the UPC students a lot of confidence to pursue bigger and better large act shows. I am very excited to see what UPC can accomplish in the future—everyone should expect more from UPC.”

Wellness Initiative

Of course, there is more to student life programming than social activities. The Southwestern campus is, in effect, “home” to its students for the duration of their college study. As part of its new initiatives, Student Life has worked to provide more health and wellness programs in response to student concerns regarding a lack of health services available on campus. “With the new wellness initiative, we now have a part-time paid doctor, a physician’s assistant, a registered nurse, and a health educator on staff,” Brody says.

The Health Center now provides general practice medicine, women’s health services, lab work and prescriptions. The new health educator on staff leads programs addressing eating disorders and sexual assault, provides risk reduction, and alcohol and other drug education. The University also has three psychologists who provide consultation and counseling to students seeking such help.

“Once students become aware of the new services being offered, I believe that they will be utilized, and I think the response will be very positive,” notes junior Mimi Tang. “I also believe that having a women’s health professional on campus will help promote awareness of different issues that women face.”

Residence Life

With more than 80 percent of Southwestern students living on campus, many student interactions occur because of residential social groups, whether it is a pick-up game of basketball or a study group. Many students and alumni view residence halls as the center of campus life. “I believe that residence hall life is crucial to the inaugural college experience,” says Chris Damon ’90. “The mechanics of becoming an independent person require more than fine academics, they also require a period of great social and leadership growth. Some of my best friends to this day are people radically different from me whose acquaintance I was thrown into during my first year living on the second floor of Martin Ruter Hall.”

One of the most significant changes in student life at Southwestern has occurred in the University’s residence halls. The 2005-06 school year created coed living for the first time at Southwestern through Living-Learning Communities (LLCs) in Mabee Hall. Students in seven First-Year Seminars not only had class together, but also lived together.

The LLCs were so well received by students, parents and faculty members that the program was expanded to 11 LLCs this fall—almost half of the 2010 graduating class. “The people you make friends with is easily the best part of the program,” explains first-year LLC student Lane Hill. “It was a fast track—I bonded with my roommates and suitemates extremely fast. Without the program in place, I probably wouldn’t be half as social as I am now.”

First-year Tanlyn Roelofs, another LLC student, adds, “I expected that the LLC would contribute to a positive learning environment, sharing of knowledge and quick friends. It fulfilled these expectations. When working on the final project, we held discussions in the common quad, dormitory rooms, hallways and over breakfast. The relaxed and casual atmosphere facilitated the work. Learning could happen anytime, anywhere.”

“I appreciate the way the LLC made me rethink the teaching material and how it shows learning as part of your life—not just some staid, stuffy classroom gig,” says Eric Selbin, University Scholar and chair of the Political Science Department. “It gets students out of the educational rut many of them are in and brings them into contact with more real-world situations—which fosters different dynamics and understanding of how people, places and position work.”

One of the goals of the Strategic Plan for 2010 is to increase the percentage of students living on campus to 95 percent. Toward this end, the Board of Trustees recently approved a two-year on-campus living requirement. Additionally, the University has broken ground for a new residential center directly east of the Grogan and Betty Lord Residential Center along Southwestern Blvd. The new complex will consist of three apartment-style housing units with space for an additional 64 students. (see p. 4 for more information)

Pinsky Speaks
Students enjoying one of last year’s First-Year Seminars.
Town and Gown

In the last decade, the population of Georgetown has nearly doubled. Significant economic growth has followed this population explosion. “The retail and service industry growth is booming,” says Tina M. Dunbar, a staff member in the City of Georgetown’s Office of Economic Development. “With the completion of SH-130 just two miles from campus, we expect even more growth on the east side of town.”

Southwestern seniors especially have noticed the change over the past three years and relish having so many new retail and restaurant options near campus. “The retail expansion is beneficial to Southwestern students because there is no longer the need to drive into Austin for daily necessities,” notes senior Sarah Jessup. “This gives us more time for campus activities and schoolwork.”

Equally important is the dedication to the University being shown by new businesses in Georgetown. Vista Solutions, a software development company, purchased one of the buildings on the square. They have converted the street-level portion into a sports bar and grill called The Loading Dock. In addition to offering live music and a place for students to socialize, the top floor of the Loading Dock houses Southwestern memorabilia and University sporting event schedules.

The growth of social opportunities for students within the larger Georgetown community is a boon for Student Life staff on campus. “Some of the pressure to be everything and do everything has lessened because of development in the Georgetown area,” says Mike Leese, associate vice president and dean of students. “Nevertheless, we are a residential campus in a smaller town and do need to provide some 24/7 services. This is a national trend, not just a Southwestern trend. We have to respond to student needs and expectations.”

Students recognize the importance of continuing to improve student life—from the variety of activities and organizations to residence life to health and wellness. Sophomore and Brown Scholar Kevin O’Neill explains, “Enriching student life will greatly improve the way a student views Southwestern. In turn, I believe a more enjoyable student life will result in a tighter campus community.”

Staff recognize this fact as well. Mike Rossman ’73, director of admission, notes, “In the last 35 years, the interests, talents and involvements of our students have expanded significantly, reflecting the diversity of society in which we now live and the multiplicity of opportunity for individual expression it affords. Southwestern has been challenged to stay ahead of the curve in providing for this diversity of interest while at the same time creating the strong sense of community so essential to our nature and mission. The new student life initiatives give evidence of our willingness to respond to that challenge.”

The National Student Satisfaction Survey conducted by American College Testing (ACT) indicates that the University is on the right track in meeting student needs and wants. Compared to other universities across the country, Southwestern students ranked the University above the national average on 43 of the items surveyed. Only one— parking—ranked lower. “We were all very pleased with the results,” Brody says, noting that the new programs couldn’t have succeeded without the support of faculty, staff, students and alumni.

The Division of Student Life staff are not, however, resting on their laurels. Programs in development include academically related theme housing and special programming just for sophomores. “We want to build on current successes,” says Brody, “and move even closer to making the quality of student life comparable to the outstanding academic experience at Southwestern University.”