Collegiate Charity from Central Arkansas
27 January 2006 (collegiateway.org) — Every residential college should have some act of public service that it performs on a regular basis. This is beneficial on so many levels it’s hard to list them all: it helps the people in need who are the recipients of the service, it teaches valuable skills to the students who help organize the work, it builds college identity, it links the college membership to the external world in a valuable way, it opens up employment opportunities for students after graduation, it serves an an example of constructive labor that the participants can carry with them throughout their lives, and it just makes everyone feel good.
The three residential colleges of the University of Central Arkansas, along with the university’s honors program, provide us this week with a fine example of public service that can be replicated in any residential college system. The colleges are supporting Heifer International, a charity that supplies livestock and other resources for sustainable agriculture to poor communities around the world. A UCA news report describing the colleges’ work reads in part:
UCA students raise money for Heifer Project
University of Central Arkansas students from the Honors College and three residential colleges partnered in 2005 to raise $5,000 for a gift Ark from Heifer Project International (HPI).
The residential colleges joined forces with the Honors College after discovering that both were planning to raise money for an Ark. This was the third year Honors had raised money for HPI, but the first year for State, Minton and Hughes residential colleges.
A gift Ark provides a family in a poor country with a pair of several animals including cows, sheep, pigs, goats, chicks and llamas. The gift not only purchases the animals, but provides for their transport and funds training and support by HPI.
UCA President Lu Hardin congratulated the students on their success. “Raising money for an Ark makes a tremendous difference. I’m excited that the Honors College and Hughes, State and Minton residential colleges worked together for this very substantive result. A lot of people will have a meal because of what you did.”
Beth Newman, a representative from HPI and a 2003 UCA graduate, presented the students with framed certificates recognizing their gift.
But can a residential college, specifically, do this sort of work any differently from anyone else? Don’t random groups of students collect money for charity all the time? They do, but because a residential college is a permanent, stable, faculty-led society, where each year builds upon the years before, it can accomplish far more than any one-off event or ad hoc group can.
For example, although the students in a residential college should do the greater part of the work in any college-sponsored charitable enterprise, it’s important that the senior members of the college—the master, the dean, and the fellows—offer a guiding hand and help to maintain continuity in the work from one year to the next. If student support is weak one year, the senior members can push the project along until a more enthusiastic group of students picks it up a year later. The senior members of the college can maintain permanent relations with representatives of charitable organizations, so that even when the student population turns over completely, the relationships will still continue. The senior members can ensure that the work is documented, publicized, and integrated into the annual calendar of the college, not only so it receives attention, but so each year’s new students won’t have to be forever reinventing basic procedures and establishing contacts when they could instead be making positive progress within a pre-existing framework. And in the protected spaces of a residential college—the library, the offices, the senior common room—the senior members can display a record of the good works of the college in photographs, awards, and signature pages that introduce new members to the college’s charitable tradition, and remind old members of the contributions they have made.
While it can be good for a whole residential college system to engage in the same kind of work, as at UCA, it is also good for each college to differentiate its activities so it can say “this is our own project that we do each year—a special one that no one else does.” In this way the distinctive character of the project, whatever it may be, will work itself into the identity of the college year after year. In the UCA project, for example, it might be possible for each college to direct its contributions to a different country or community, and to support the same country or community each year so that the recipients come to feel a sustained connection with their collegiate donors. They might even be able to visit one another at some date in the distant future.
So, three cheers for the UCA residential colleges: may their good works be an example to other colleges like them around the world.