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Brooks College will help bridge campus divisions

Oct. 25, 2006

Baylor Lariat

By DR. FRANK SHUSHOK JR.

In Tuesday's editorial titled "Brooks will split campus," the Lariat editorial board appealed to some admirable principles. Regrettably, it failed to see how plans for Brooks College will realize those very principles, especially the Baylor 2012 aspiration to support "learning amidst diversity."

Student Life wholeheartedly agrees that "learning amidst diversity" is not only important, we think it is essential. Brooks College is built on the assumption that diversity is in every way good for the living environment. It is open to every student and there is no GPA, classification or major requirement to live in Brooks.

Of the 142 students who have already applied for admission to Brooks, one will find freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors and graduate students. This initial group of applicants represents more than 59 majors across all schools and colleges. There will be men and women representing a rich variety of races and ethnicities. As part of this environment, there also will be faculty, staff and students who live, work and eat together as part of their living community.

In comparison, our recent history at Baylor has been to segregate students by classification, gender and, unintentionally, by race. Collins and Penland Halls, for example, have been extraordinarily homogenous. We've been working to correct this as well.

Frankly, "learning amidst diversity" isn't just the aspiration for Brooks College, it's the aspiration for all residence halls at Baylor. If all goes as planned, we'll have 10 faculty members making residence halls homes in 2007.

Dub Oliver, vice president for student life, has articulated his desire to see faculty in residence in every environment over the next few years. We also hope to create more faculty offices in residence halls, adding to those already in place at Alexander Halls, the North Village and planned in Brooks College.

Living-learning centers, too, have facilitated the incorporation of greater diversity in residential environments, especially across traditional racial and ethnic divides. They have facilitated learning across the classifications where seniors live in community with freshmen.

While Oxford and Cambridge have served as architectural inspiration for Brooks College, the impetus for a residential college at Baylor is more motivated by a movement of higher education in the United States. While some institutions like Yale, Rice and Vanderbilt have opted to convert their entire housing inventory to residential colleges, many others have created them as another option for students to consider.

These institutions are very diverse and include the University of Wisconsin, UNC-Greensboro, the University of South Carolina, the University of Georgia, Tulane, California-Santa Cruz, Truman State, Murray State, the University of Virginia and Michigan State University.

The growing popularity of residential colleges has resulted in the biannual national living-learning conference changing its name this year to the National Living-Learning and Residential College Conference. In fact, I've just returned from this meeting at Syracuse University and attended with a team of nine from Baylor. Five of us were from Student Life. Four were from the faculty. This conference, too, was just incorporated into the Association of College and University Housing Officers (the primary professional organization for those working in university housing).

The reason that residential colleges are gaining so much momentum is related to a growing conversation about improving undergraduate education, student engagement and meaningful faculty-student interaction. I know well that a residential college won't be attractive to all Baylor students in the same way that Penland and Collins are of little interest to others. Even Brooks College only represents half of the students who will live in Brooks Village. The idea is to offer a breadth of housing options that each facilitate learning and offer a place of belonging and membership -- something we know is important for retention, learning and satisfaction.

While I know Brooks College is our first residential college, I do hope it won't be our last. If we are to reach the objective of Imperative II of 2012, we must then continue to increase the percentage of students residing on campus, as well as learn from the compelling research about how residential life can assist with learning on campus. To do so, we must have options that appeal to the diversity of interest represented in the Baylor student population.

Dr. Frank Shushok Jr., is dean for student learning and engagement.