All praise to the architects, the various building and engineering firms and their workers and to Buildings and Property for a great achievement!
In this first week of the academic year a steady stream of visitors has been checking out the ‘new Oasis’; and returnees, who have been patiently waiting for the refurbishment to be completed, have been welcomed back.
I noticed how the new kitchen table has become a lunchtime focus for some returnees – they told us how homely the kitchen is – just what we had hoped! Already students and staff are talking about cooking to share and a sharing of cooking knowledge. We just have to test out the fire alarms for heat, steam and smoke detection first! Harmony Day on Monday March 21 will probably put the kitchen to the test as we share a lunch of different cultural dishes.
The impact of closing the Quiet Space door behind me for the first time really surprised me – almost total silence! I noticed yesterday morning that three students slipped in to the Quiet Space at different times for meditation. Earlier, one student had taken a catnap on the couch. By good fortune, probably more than planning, the Quiet Space can easily be accessed from the stairwell or lift entrance without having to engage with others in the centre. You can just slip in and out anonymously. Augurs well for stress release. After the pergola outside is re-roofed, we will establish a ‘green’ wall outside its windows.
Similarly, my office, the only place for a closed-door conversation, has an external sliding door. So, the chances of anonymity for confidential conversations, entering directly from the garden outside, is a real bonus!
The Lounge meeting space with the white-board wall is already well and truly in use; students, staff and the Oasis Team have all been using the space to engage in planning. This area will be delineated from the opposite side of the Lounge with a bookshelf which will be set up to define a reading nook when a remaining couch arrives.
On Tuesday night the FES club filled the Common Room with 80 students sitting at tables, slow cookers and rice cookers in full swing in the kitchen. Glowing thanks from all!
Gradually Muslim students are discovering the Prayer Rooms. We have been asking them what they think of them and the answers have been in the ‘impressive’ range. When Lisa opened the door to show one woman the female prayer room she wept in gratitude! We look forward to an impasse between demands of the leadership of the Flinders University Muslim Association and the University’s provision of prayer space in Oasis being resolved and the Oasis Common Room fulfilling its planned function of being used for Friday Prayer.
Today, regular student users of Oasis were given training on the use of the impressive audio-visual equipment installed in Oasis. There are still some bugs to sort out, but the potential is outstanding!
On top of all this we have welcomed new students, some overwhelmed by culture shock or the complexity of finding one’s way in the university. Members of the Oasis team and Oasis ‘regulars’ have provided gentle assurance. The word seems to be getting around that Oasis can be counted on for emotional support.
Exciting New Intercultural Initiatives
Through our networking over the last few years, a number of initiatives for mutual collaboration are coming together in Oasis:
- Supported by Klaus Koefer (International Student Support), Social Work student Henry Liu has formed a new FUSA club – ‘Cultural Connections’ – bringing international students together with locals to share cross-cultural experiences, and particularly to develop mastery of local language idioms.
- Verity Kingsmill has been toying with using Oasis to assist local students develop cultural intelligence before graduation – the flip side of Henry’s initiative – in a project she is calling ‘Cultural Conversations’.
- Social Work are exploring a new model of field placement for Masters of Social Work students that would see Flinders itself, through Oasis, become an agency for field placement. Called ‘The Intercultural Field Education Project’, funding has been obtained to provide a dedicated Social Work supervisor for five students working on University projects out of Oasis. These projects (500 hours per student) could support Cultural Connections and Cultural Conversations.
- Oasis Team member Alan Larkin, formerly Director of International Education at Flinders, is exploring connections between Oasis and Rotary International. Rotary have a long and impressive track record of supporting international students.
This collaboration illustrates the catalytic role Oasis is playing on top of its traditional pastoral role, across different parts of the University – in this case, FUSA, International Student Support, Careers, the Academy and the Community. These stakeholders are going to meet monthly; Assoc. Prof. Carol Irizarry is the Convenor.
In continuing to refine the Oasis Vision statement over the last three years I have interviewed various staff across the campus who are engaged in research or have a stated role supporting ‘well being’.
When a research group under the leadership of Prof. Phillip Slee, Student Wellbeing and Prevention of Violence (SWAPv), announced their inaugural international conference, to be held at Tonsley in July, 2016, I was able to connect other Flinders staff from diverse areas into their conference planning. As a result the program and scope of the conference has been strengthened and broadened. Oasis will play an important role as conference ‘connectors’, adding social value to the conference.
In addition, Oasis is organizing a post-conference add-on, ‘Saturday at Oasis’, immediately after the SWAPv conference, also inviting participants of the concurrent Global Conference of University Chaplains, being held in Bendigo. Oasis will invite a number of local ‘leading lights’ to provide dialogical input into open-space conversations, reflections and action-plans.
Oasis Team Development
Ben Smith from Flinders Health and Counseling is joining the Oasis Team at our weekly team meetings with a view to developing tailored professional skills development for the team.
The morning of the second Tuesday of the month has been set aside as team building time. Our first guest will be Dr Steve Parker, Associate Dean (Teaching & Learning), School of Nursing & Midwifery, to assist Oasis with web-based applications for communication and organization.
Oasis Reference Group
I am in the process of setting up a reference group of Oasis stakeholders to act as a sounding board for strategic Oasis issues. This will essentially replace a previous set of mentors from outside the University who supported me during my time as Uniting Church chaplain. I expect it will meet twice each semester, with a more extended meeting in the long break.
A Sharing Economy
In keeping with values associated with hospitality, Oasis has adopted a non-commercial position with what it offers – ‘No money changes hands in Oasis’. Oasis encourages those who have done well in life to ‘give back’ – to invest in our students and to invest in creating a culture of goodwill, kindness and compassion. This is in keeping with attitudes of hospitality to the stranger found in ancient, traditional religions – the ‘Golden Rule’, for example.
This paradigm is extended to those who use Oasis – Oasis adopts a position of enabling others to fulfill their own mandates in creative ways in concert with others, with a view toward fostering wellbeing and human flourishing. Networking and collaboration are intrinsic to the Oasis ‘sharing economy’ culture. In the process, a sense of community and care is built.