University of Lynchburg students can take advantage of three new residential learning communities opening in Fall 2019.
The new learning communities — Spirituality, Wellness and Mindfulness; Dimensions of Diversity; and one for the Westover Honors College — will allow students to live nearby others with similar interests and participate in co-curricular programs together. “Research shows that residential learning communities increase student satisfaction, engagement, and sense of belonging,” Courtney Kelsey, assistant director of residential learning communities, said.
She added that RLCs also reinforce institutional values of community, wellness, diversity, academic rigor, and active learning, and increase interactions with faculty and staff beyond the classroom or office.
Through specially designed programming, students explore special topics, engage with peers in meaningful ways, learn more about themselves, and develop skills, such as teamwork, collaboration, critical thinking, and openness to diverse views.
Spirituality, Wellness and Mindfulness
The Spirituality, Wellness and Mindfulness RLC is aimed at sophomores but open to juniors and seniors as well. It will be located on the second floor, south end, of the new residence hall, which is currently under construction alongside Shellenberger Field.
The RLC was proposed by Associate Chaplain Nathan Albert and Dr. Steve Dawson, philosophy department chair and associate professor of philosophy and religion. The pair also will serve as the community’s advisors.
The RLC actually originated with two proposals — one from Albert, another from Dr. Dawson — that merged into one. “One was contemplative, spiritual practices, ancient Christian, such as centering prayer, breath prayers. The other was meditation and yoga,” Albert, an ordained Covenant Church minister, said.
“We realized, in a brainstorming session, ‘What if we combined them and made two tracks students could fall into?’ Tracks could be open to all students who wanted to be a part of it. Go to yoga and practice centering prayer. Meditation and some kind of prayer or mantra.”
Dr. Dawson, who describes his faith practice as “very eclectic,” sees the community as an extension of the work he does with Sangha, an interfaith group that meets regularly on campus and focuses on meditation and other spiritual practices, such as yoga.
“I felt we could do some things in collaboration with Sangha, which meets twice a week to meditate, and do some field trips that get off campus,” he said. “There are so many great places around here to go hiking and do outdoor, physical activities.”
One of these places is Yogaville, a spiritual community located in Buckingham County, Virginia, about an hour and 15 minutes from Lynchburg. “I’ve taken students there the last two or three semesters,” Dr. Dawson said. “They have a nice day program to do yoga and some meditation with the community. They have a great cafeteria. The grounds are beautiful. It’s something like you’d find in India, dropped in the middle of Buckingham County.”
Heather Hobbs ’20 will be the resident assistant for the Spirituality, Wellness and Mindfulness RLC. She’s looking forward to the opportunities that she and the other students living there will have. In addition to yoga, meditation, and prayer, programming will encourage things like healthy eating and stress relief.
“Personally, I’m excited to push myself to do things I have never done and learn from this whole experience,” Hobbs said. “I also thought this is an amazing opportunity for students to find things in their life that can help them relieve stress. I am excited to learn with this community.
“I’m very excited to be in a hall where I will be learning just as much as the residents. This is an amazing opportunity for me, personally and professionally. In general, being in a new building is exciting to everyone, especially the special areas I can use. One thing I’m really looking forward to is being able to use the balcony on the top floor to possibly do some morning meditation or yoga.”
As for Albert, he wishes he’d learned many of these practices years ago. “I would love to see students experience practices that really can be life giving and bring a sense of ease and joy and happiness to their lives,” he said. “What we’ll be teaching is practices I wish I’d learned 20 years ago. It would have saved me lots of stress in undergraduate and graduate, and in looking for jobs. They’re great tools that I hope our students will utilize out of here, in life in general.”
The RLC will accommodate 25 students and requires students have a grade point average of at least 2.5. So far, 15 students have expressed an interest in living there.
Dimensions of Diversity
The Dimensions of Diversity RLC will be located on the first floor of Montgomery Hall. There, first-year students will create an innovative environment that upholds and fosters values of acceptance, inclusion, and equity among people from various backgrounds, beliefs, and philosophies.
According to Aaron Smith, diversity and inclusion officer at Lynchburg, the community is open to “any students that have an interest in learning more about diversity. Any student at all. It’s pretty exciting.”
The students living in this gender-inclusive community will share diverse academic and cultural experiences, with an emphasis on social justice, community service, and understanding the beliefs, ideas, identities, and behaviors of themselves and others.
Activities specific to this RLC will include monthly cultural dinners, “sip and share” events, a book club, and a monthly film series. Proposed cultural excursions include trips to Washington, D.C., and the Robert Russa Moton Museum, a civil rights landmark in Farmville, Virginia.
Dimensions of Diversity can accommodate 20 students. Those who are interested in living in there during the 2019-20 academic year should indicate as much on their housing preference form. Assignments will be made at the end of July.
The third new RLC will be for upperclassmen engaged in the Westover Honors College. It will be located on the third floor, south end, of the new residence hall. Students living in this community will interact and mentor the 60 first-year Westover Honors students already living in their own RLC on the fifth floor of Montgomery Hall.
“The Westover Honors College is poised to write a new chapter in its more than 30-year history as we anxiously await the completion of the new living and learning community,” Westover’s director, Dr. Ed DeClair, said. “Westover Fellows will have access to state-of-the-art facilities in the new building.”
According to Kelsey, the upperclass Westover community can accommodate up to 60 students and requires that students have a GPA of at least 2.75. As of mid-March, 30 students had expressed interest.
Aligned with goals
The new RLCs were announced recently after a months-long selection process that involved people from across the University of Lynchburg community. After a series of workshops to help faculty and staff brainstorm ideas, a task force that included students reviewed several proposals.
“The committee considered the learning outcomes in the proposals, the faculty and staff buy in, the accountability measures listed, and the number of students that could benefit from each residential learning community,” Kristen Cooper, director of housing and residence life, said.
Kelsey noted that creating more RLCs also aligns with Vision 2020, the University’s strategic plan, and its goals for student engagement. “RLCs are a high-impact practice, and Vision 2020 dictates that 100 percent of students participate in a minimum of three high-impact practices by graduation,” she said.