Campus life is often that great transition between homes—leaving your parents’ supportive embrace and starting a home of your own. Those of us honored with creating this environment are thoughtful about what to put into it—not too much and not too little.
Perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of college and university students today is their connectedness with so much around them through social media. While much has been said about the impact of this new technology, pro and con, its reality in today’s world is one that must be factored into campus programming and communication.
When your campus is further diversified by many graduate and married students, as we have at Loma Linda University, making a healthy place for personal and corporate spiritual growth is even more challenging. It is in this context that I have become convinced that the great unifier—the healthy growth stimulant—is service to others. This can be accomplished through organized activities by the school, or individual initiatives prompted by exposure to human need and associated with protected space for creativity.
I have watched this progression many times between community programs that expose students to societal issues that then lead to the spawning of new initiatives. Our Goals 4 Health soccer program for local kids (and now their moms), Tigers program for teaching kids how to swim, or the foot-washing service for those who are homeless, sprang from exposure that brought inspiration and commitment to a single student or group of friends. They then have the incredible learning experience of working through organizational issues, continuity and sustainability, finances, recruitment, liability, etc. That is growth at its best, developing leadership skills by trial and error and receiving the satisfaction of creating something yourself.
Many of our campuses are now more culturally diverse than ever before. Students from various countries and religious backgrounds have come to us, wanting to benefit from a safe environment that is willing to understand their own traditions and beliefs. This requires a careful balance between acceptance and sharing with them our ideas and understandings.
Assuring tolerance for their beliefs, as we have coveted for our own unique walk through life, is not always easy. Prayer, music, and worship practices, even among Christians, have wide variation, yet are meaningful to each in his or her own cultural background. This is a growth process for many of our college, and even academy, campuses today as we accept and value these fellow children of our God.
We must not measure their value in dollars only, though their tuition may help balance the budget. Helping their spiritual growth, even within their own belief system, has value to God that we must not forget.
Probably the most notable unique aspect of Adventist higher education today comes from our global exposure and commitment. Few schools have the connections and opportunities that we have to go literally anywhere in the world and find an open and supportive church family willing to give our students real-world experiences. All our campuses take advantage of this, leading to a cohort of students who are probably more culturally attuned to the world than any comparable group elsewhere.
The impact of these “teachable moments,” when students step outside their comfortable cultural and economic boundaries and confront other worlds, is immeasurable. Loma Linda values these experiences so highly that we recently determined to double our students’ opportunities to serve abroad from 10 percent of our student body to 20 percent, or about 800 students, each year. The stories from these “return” missionaries infects the rest of the campus and leads to long-term service commitments.
I certainly don’t want to overlook the traditional aspects of a quality campus—healthful food, recreational activities, sports, safe dormitories, and stimulating worship services, among many others. But in my view they are the substrate for the truly character-forming service experiences that distinguish Adventist education. Let’s value what we have.
I have come to believe that these outside-of-class activities are not “extracurricular” but “curricular.” They are the key to answering Ellen White’s call for character-building schools that focus our students on eternal values, like the “needle to the pole.”*
* Ellen G. White, Education (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1903, 1952), p. 57.
Richard H. Hart, M.D., Dr.P.H.h, is president and chief executive officer of Loma Linda University Health in Loma Linda, California.