Community engagement key for College and SOT unification

by Ross Scarborough

The relationship between the college and the School of Theology (SOT) could grow closer in the coming years as both groups are becoming more intentional about community engagement. If, that is, students of both groups work as a single unit when they engage the community.

The realationship between seminarians and undergraduates is by no means bad. For instance, undergraduates frequently babysit for seminarians, while seminarians frequently serve as bartenders for undergraduates. Beyond this, there is a lot that the University’s two student bodies have in common. Community engagement is a stated top priority for both groups, and is likely to stay a priority for years to come. But the only way for community engagement to go from a priority to part of Sewanee’s identity is if undergraduates and seminarians can develop effective and powerful community outreach tools together.

Beginning next year, a new freshmen orientation format will jump-start community engagement in undergraduates. The college’s entire curriculum has been revamped to give special attention to community engagement classes. On Mar. 27, Rev. Kammy Young, Director of Contextual Education at the SOT, hosted a lecture and discussion called “Points of Grace.” Part of an oral history of the SOT, the discussion addressed very real issues facing the seminary. The general consensus seemed to be that increasing the SOT’s presence in the community was a top priority. Thoughts ranged from having more meaningful interaction with college students to partnering with well-established community institutions such as the CAC. Either way, it is clear that students of the college and students of the seminary want the same thing: to grow and develop through giving back to the world around them.

At one point in the lecture, Young referred to the SOT as a “21st—century Highlander School.” She identified health care, public education, and drug and alcohol abuse as the top concerns driving their community outreach plans. The effectiveness of institutions like the Highlander School came from the diversity of leaders and their ability to think creatively when combating the unjust conventions of their day. Whether working for the rights of African Americans or immigrants, the Highlander School used an approach that was well organized yet unorthodox.

If undergraduates and seminarians hope to achieve the same kind of impact in the Sewanee community, they too will have to grapple with issues like health care, public education, and drug and alcohol abuse in a well organized yet unorthodox way. Now that both groups share a common mission, it is time for the two groups to look to each other to lay a foundation of cooperation for the 21st century.