By Lane Murphy
Two dozen cheerful volunteers descend with military precision on each of hundreds of cars marked with shoe-polished room numbers on their windshields. Braving mid-August heat, the group works as one, carrying in a single trip the boxed belongings of an incoming student past water stations and contingents of cheering upperclassmen directly into the newly constructed living quarters of Brooks Village. August 15 marked a new beginning for Brooks Residential College, which stands where the previous edifice named for former Baylor President Samuel Palmer Brooks welcomed students for 85 years.
Move-in day was a thrilling experience for Drs. Douglas and Michele Henry, the new Faculty Master and Associate Faculty Master of Brooks Residential College.
"This was the date that all our plans for the last couple of years have been oriented around," says Douglas Henry. "Move-in day inaugurated, in a real respect, the life of the College." Henry, who is also director of the Institute of Faith and Learning and associate professor of philosophy, wisely was armed with a dolly, joining hundreds of volunteers at Brooks to assist the new students. The day "was a wonderful culmination of all the things we had planned for, and it went remarkably smoothly," he says.
Meeting the students' families and learning of Brooks' legacies at the Parents' Tea impressed Michele Henry, associate professor of music education and director of the Baylor Women's Choir. "A number of excited Baylor fathers have said, 'My dad lived in Brooks, I lived in Brooks, and now my daughter lives in Brooks.' Several families had a third generation moving into Brooks, and they were very proud to be part of the new Brooks College," she says.
That's right: females now occupy Brooks as well, albeit on separate wings and floors. Some students even returned from off campus to experience their final year at Brooks.
Baylor has joined the ranks of other top universities that are seeing the value of innovative and student-centered residential colleges formed in the mold of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard and Yale. The creation of Brooks Residential College provides a new opportunity for students who desire to live and learn in a close-knit environment where faith, learning and community can intermingle and flourish.
Everything at Brooks is intentional, designed to enhance the students' experiences at Baylor. "Through its organization, architecture and participants, it reminds us that we learn best in the context of community," says Dr. Frank Shushok, BS '91, dean of Student Learning & Engagement. "Students from across majors, classifications and generations (faculty, staff and students) live, dine and learn together in the pursuit of student formation--intellectual, moral and spiritual."
Brooks Village provides students with another quality option for campus living. "We now have a variety of living-learning communities, including our first residential college, as well as facilities that provide a variety of amenities and price points," says Shushok.
One of the goals of Baylor 2012, Imperative II, is to create a truly residential campus. The addition of Brooks College, Brooks Flats (which features apartment-style living for upperclassmen) and the North Village has helped increase the percentage of students living on campus from 29 percent to 39 percent in the past five years.
"You can feel the energy brought to bear by having 1,000 more students living their lives on campus thanks to North Village and Brooks Village," says Shushok. "Dozens of student life professionals, faculty, staff and students are devoting much energy to ensuring that Baylor residence halls facilitate the intellectual, psychological and spiritual formation of students in a way that adds value to the overall Baylor educational experience."
Brooks residents benefit from living near the offices of some of Baylor's most highly esteemed and engaging faculty members. Several faculty offices, including the Great Texts offices, are nestled inside Brooks Residential College just off the Junior Commons, which makes student-faculty interaction all the more frequent. The Junior Commons serves as the family den where members study, play pool, collect mail or cook in the community kitchen. Great Texts, one of four programs within the Honors College, was selected largely due to the longstanding interest of Dr. Scott Moore, BA '85, PhD '94, director of Great Texts and associate professor of philosophy.
"We wanted the chance to have close contact with students, to help break down the barriers between students' academic life and the rest of their lives. The Great Texts program helps students explore the big questions in life: What is happiness? What does God want from my life? What can I know? These are the questions that spill over outside the classroom. Students and professors informally discuss these issues over meals, in our offices and in the Junior Commons," says Moore.
Douglas Henry describes the Great Texts faculty as a great fit for Brooks: "One of the hallmarks of a residential college is that they aren't geared toward just one major, so the interdisciplinarity of the Great Texts program was a real plus. Professors with backgrounds in English literature, French, theology, philosophy and classics, to name a few, provide the kind of breadth of intellectual life that hopefully is helpful to the students."
Brooks Residential College also houses a seminar classroom and a library, in addition to two study rooms on each floor. Academic inquiry is certainly fostered at Brooks, but the image of a student cloistered away, constantly studying alone into the wee hours, is not quite accurate. In fact, there is no minimum academic requirement to gain acceptance into Brooks; however, prospective students must submit an essay describing why they want to live at Brooks in addition to completing the regular on-campus housing form.
Spiritual development has always been a meaningful part of the college experience for students at Baylor, and Brooks' leadership started the semester off on the right foot. Brooks Residential College President Bryan Watt, a senior church music/vocal performance major, recounts a prayer walk with all the leaders of the College as his most meaningful experience at Brooks thus far.
"We started in the archway of Brooks where Dr. [Douglas] Henry said the first prayer, and we continued from hall to hall and facility to facility praying for the incoming students and that God would do a mighty work in the lives of each member," says Watt. The Ring of Honor outside Pat Neff Hall was the last stop, where Brooks' leadership prayed for all of Baylor and that God would bring revival to campus. "This walk was such a success and a meaningful experience that we decided to document it as a new and official Brooks tradition for the start of each year."
Longtime Baylor supporters William and Mary Jo Robbins are helping to sustain students' connection with God at Brooks Residential College through the gift of Robbins Chapel, a place for everyday prayer, meditation and worship.
"We believe building a place for private prayer and small-group worship at the heart of a living-learning community is a meaningful way to encourage faithfulness to Christ in the daily life of students and is integral to the Baylor 2012 vision," says William Robbins, BA '52, LLB '54.
Students and faculty hold prayer services at 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. on weekdays, engaging in responsive scripture readings and times of reflection, meditation and prayer. Douglas Henry says the chapel's presence "communicates something terribly powerful--that spiritual life is part and parcel to a well-lived, fully formed kind of life. Students should grasp that thoughtfulness, godliness and community life all go hand in hand." The chapel is available to students around the clock; Douglas Henry notes that "it's not unusual to find students praying on their own in the chapel, and I know that's exactly the sort of thing that Bill and Mary Jo Robbins hoped for."
Robbins Chapel is one of sophomore Anson Jablinski's favorite things about Brooks College. "At any time I can retreat to the chapel and take a moment to reconnect with God," says Jablinski, who also notes that Robbins Chapel is a part of what makes Brooks Residential College such a richly fulfilling place to live. "You are connected to all things--to your studies, to your professors, to friends and family and to God--all at once."
The stained glass windows in Robbins Chapel have drawn special attention. The windows are the product of the studio of Willet and Hauser, the artisans whose windows also adorn the Armstrong Browning Library and the chapel of George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Designed in close collaboration with the Robbins, the windows theologically and artistically complement the mission of Baylor.
"I know I can speak for all of the Brooks residents when I express my extreme gratitude toward William and Mary Jo Robbins for their commitment to the Lord and their tremendous generosity in providing for Robbins Chapel," Watt says.
A sense of belonging
Of all the ways Brooks fosters a communal spirit, the weekly Community Dinner on Sunday nights has been the most wildly successful. Perhaps the most unique feature, according to Michele Henry, is "the nature of the entire student community sitting down to eat together." Students wear their Sunday best, standing patiently with their peers at their chosen places waiting for the Henrys to accompany in the special guests. As Henry notes, "You don't wait for everybody else at other cafeterias on campus." After prayer and the welcome, students from each table retrieve dishes from the kitchen to be shared family style.
"The Sunday night dinner is my favorite part of the week." says College Council Vice President Emily Rodgers, a senior University Scholars major. "It is a unique opportunity for students to tangibly serve one another, and there are few other times during the week when we can gather for conversation as a community."
Waco Mayor Virginia DuPuy, BA '56, MA '62, already has had two "very rewarding" visits to Brooks Residential College, attending community dinner and the Master's Tea at the Henrys' residence. "It was good to meet such fine students and encouraging to learn of their interest in including their community life in Waco as part of their education," says DuPuy.
Rodgers says that DuPuy "encouraged us to truly develop the art of listening well; that is what will build community more than anything."
Jablinski says he much prefers the Community Dinner to the fast food he usually ate on Sunday nights last year, when all other cafeterias are closed. The Community Dinner "gives me a chance to meet with other members of the College who I'd usually rarely see. I've made friends outside my discipline, which I believe is nearly priceless. I realize the value of spending good time with good people, I love the tradition, and I hope that it is never compromised."
Leadership and traditions
One of the few aspects of Brooks that can match its first-class facilities and leadership are the students who have chosen to call Brooks home. The Henrys knew the first residents "would be awfully good," but they couldn't quite anticipate such successful, involved and enthusiastic students. Several of them have worked and planned with Baylor officials and faculty for months before the College opened. Watt says that he has "never encountered such an amazing group who is so committed to making a difference not only in Brooks, but in the Baylor and Waco communities as well. It is only September and I already feel like I'm part of a family." Douglas Henry and Watt report high activity in all five of Brooks' student-led committees: Ministry and Service, Community and Traditions, Campus Life, Academics and Global Society. The committees are open to all Brooks College residents.
Among the many student-led endeavors already completed is the formation of the Brooks Residential College Community Covenant, which current students will sign and hang in the Great Hall (see sidebar, pg. 25). "What they came up with is simply stunning, a remarkable accomplishment," says Douglas Henry. "All the students who follow afterward will have a sense of the indebtedness to the covenantal foundations of the College." For Henry, student actions like these "demonstrate exactly what we hoped would be the case for the students who make Brooks their home."
Along with the first-ever Brooks Formal held in October, forthcoming traditions include a campus-wide celebration of Samuel Palmer Brooks' birthday with live music and activities, choristers singing from atop the tower near Christmas and on Diadeloso, renewing the Brooks Hall tradition of outgoing seniors holding a tree-planting ceremony on S.P. Brooks Day, and adding books to the Brooks library which have had a profound impact on outgoing seniors.