places of the heart

At the heart of the college experience are the friendships of our students’ lives. Late night conversations and laughter in the residence halls, seemingly endless cups of coffee in the ”˜caf,’walks through the campus gardens, along ponds and streams, cheering at an athletic event, or simply sunning with a friend on a lawn with a book at hand. These are the moments that grow into the relationships that last a lifetime. And the day-to-day places of the campus, where students gather together in leisure, become places of the heart.

The difference between a collection of buildings and an effective collegiate campus is the difference between a house and home. A house is the necessary occasion and condition for the creation of a home and nothing more. A house possesses no life, no stories and no soul. A home, on the other hand, is rich with the warmth of those who live within. Their history hangs on the walls and sits on the shelves.   Music and color fills the rooms, revealing who the family is and what they love. Individual spaces reflect what is most important to those who reside within.   Where and how they gather reveals where they’ve been and where they hope to go.   A home is the place of the heart.

Likewise, a college campus is intended to be a home and a formative place in the hearts and lives of each of its students. As such, the places that comprise the campus are critical to each student’s psychological and aesthetic well-being and education. A space that is thoughtlessly furnished with stiff furniture, drab colors, and accessories that signify neither conscious choices nor personal care neither enlivens nor inspires. Such spaces are emotionally, aesthetically, and psychologically negative and ignore  the formative character and power of place.

Successful campuses are rich with places that make their students feel at home, places that bring them together outside of the classrooms, labs, and the privacy of their rooms.  Spaces such as the highly successful Peace Garden of Lebanon Valley College, set in the center of the residential quad, is seen by the student body as a place that belongs to them in a personal way.  I recall when two students, during a night of thoughtless mischief, damaged the Peace Garden’s beautiful gated entry.  When the student judiciary system judged these students to be guilty of violating their garden, feelings were so strong and personal that the judiciary board had to be restrained from imposing truly excessive sanctions on the culprits.

IMG_2842-small

When Birmingham-Southern College introduced its program in Urban and Environmental Studies, it created an extraordinary environmental laboratory where students would be able to conduct outdoor classes and research in the field right on campus.   Designed to address the challenges of urban run-off and demonstrate the effective use of natural filtration systems through the use of plant materials within rain gardens, a stunningly beautiful lake-park became a hallmark of the campus.   Furthermore, its powerful aesthetic presence serves not only as a place for study and student leisure, but also graduations, receptions, and the many requests for weddings by college’s alumni.   Functional, academic, aesthetic – the Urban Environmental Park holds a dear place in the hearts of the students, alumni, and faculty.

lake003-small

Such is the relationship that students have with their special places on campus, the places where they meet to learn and discuss the events of their days, as well as their aspirations for the days to come.  Such places create the occasions where friendships are nurtured and reinforced and where ties to the college are forged daily.   And be assured, they are remembered and spoken of fondly for decades to come. These are a college’s places of the heart.