Oasis and International Students

Presentation Notes provided to the International Committee,
Flinders University Faculty of Education, Humanities and Law
Wednesday 11 May 2016,  Oasis Common Room

A tour of Oasis preceeded the meeting. The concepts behind each part of the centre were explained.
The short film of the ‘Cultural Conversations’ BBQ the previous Friday evening was shown and the history of the evolution of this group and the multiple networks involved was explained.

Background

Oasis evolved from the Religious Centre, gifted to the University at its inauguration by the Christian churches and Jewish communities.

In the 1990’s the Religious Centre was influenced by intra –religious rivalry and the protection of identity and boundaries among Christian groups – primarily between Evangelical and Liberal, represented by externally appointed “staff workers” and to some extent reflected in the Christian denominations, represented by denominational chaplains.

As universities internationalized, the growing presence of students of other faiths relativised the intra-Christian rivalries. The desire by other faith communities to have representation in the Religious Centre resulted in a multi-faith chaplaincy. The first multifaith event, with the support of Asian Studies and the Student Association, took place in 1999 in support of Indonesian students being targeted by Australian students as a result of events in East Timor.

The multifaith chaplaincy worked with the University to ameliorate historical and emerging conflicts in the Religious Centre and to promote respect between groups. A weekly, shared chaplains’ lunch built strong friendships and a shared vision based on universal human values embedded in traditional religions, coming to fruition in 2008 with the launch of Oasis – a metaphor for refreshment, openness and intercultural-interfaith friendship.

The VC placed Oasis within the newly formed entity, Flinders One, that provided administrative support; then in late 2012, Oasis was embraced within the administrative structures of the University, funded jointly by newly introduced student service fees and the University. It was situated within Student Services under the management of the Head of Health and Counselling. Two staff were appointed – myself, as Oasis Coordinating Chaplain, and Lisa Chandler, formerly from the International Office, as Manager of the centre.

The Present

The re-positioning of Oasis within the University validated a process that had been well underway – the negotiation of the religious in a secular institution and the re-imagining of chaplaincy as unconditional pastoral support across the University.

As a result:

  • The mission of Oasis was re-stated in secular terms in order to foster inclusion.
  • The mandate of Oasis was reframed to foster interconnectedness across multiple perspectives, directed toward well being.
  • The primary vehicle for transformation was identified as hospitality- the making of space. (Nouwen 1975 [i])
  • The immediate effect became understood as a personalized home-way-from-home; a small community of regular Oasis users began to grow.
  • The activities within Oasis tended to be student initiated – Oasis acting as host, rather than offering formal programs, thus creating space for student and staff initiatives.
  • A theoretical model, focusing on listening, underpinning the practice of the Oasis volunteer team, was developed, sustained by a professional skills development program.
  • The Oasis team was openned to those committed to contributing from their life experience to the vision and values of Oasis. It meets weekly for lunch and monthly for professional skills development.
  • A Lean-Agile-Scrum model of organization was explored and adapted.
  • Empowerment of opportunistic relationships energized university staff and students to take initiatives to enact their own ideas, while fostering the values and activities of Oasis.
  • Religious observance (apart from Muslim) was displaced to religious organisations in the community; and Flinders religious clubs and societies to FUSA.
  • The architectural imagining of a purpose-built centre supporting the aspirations of the evolving Oasis enabled Oasis to be at the international leading edge of progressive initiatives in the domains of peace-building, resilience and intercultural and interfaith practice through pastoral care.
  • A theology of religious pluralism and inclusion continues to evolve.

Consequently:

From Health and Counselling perspective, Oasis acts as a safety valve, complementing the formal medical model of Health and Counselling – sickness, appointments with experts and requiring bureaucratic formality – Oasis focusing on wellness, informality, ongoing support by volunteers and peers, and person-centred learning.

Some staff have introduced particular students to Oasis as a safe place to relax and renew.

The accessibility of the kitchen, encouragement of a culture of sharing, and the offer of free tea and coffee have assisted some students who face financial challenges, while also providing a focal point for intercultural connection.

Oasis has provided a mutually enriching opportunity by collaborating with the School of Social Work – Oasis acting as a kind of laboratory for applied Social Work practice. Five students, supervised by a member of Social Work staff, are on placement in Oasis, undertaking a number of negotiated projects in support of Oasis and the university.

In fact, Oasis can be thought of as mirroring the New Venture Institute, as an innovative centre of social entrepreneurship.

Oasis has also been working with SWAPv, centred in Education, providing a sounding board for ideas for the hosting of their first (international and cross-disciplinary) conference in July on the basis of a shared interest in promoting well being.

Liaison with the wider community sometimes results in the recruitment of new Oasis volunteers. Recent connections with Rotary International promise exciting opportunities for international students and re-invigoration of local Rotary clubs.

Oasis also operates at Tonsley, a small number of staff acting as the Oasis volunteer team; and at Sturt, where a part-time member of staff leads a small team of community volunteers supporting international students via a regular morning tea.

 

[i] Nouwen’s Concept of Hospitality

Hospitality… means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines. It is not to lead our neighbour into a corner where there are no alternatives left, but to open a wide spectrum of options for choice and commitment. It is not an educated intimidation with good books, good stories and good works, but the liberation of fearful hearts so that words can find roots and bear ample fruit. It is not a method of making our God and our way into the criteria of happiness, but the opportunity to others to find their God and their way. The paradox of hospitality is that it wants to create emptiness, but a friendly emptiness where strangers can enter and discover themselves as created free; free to sing their own songs, speak their own languages, dance their own dances; free also to leave and follow their own vocations. Hospitality is not a subtle invitation to adopt a life style of the host, but the gift of a chance for the guest to find their own.

 

Henri Nouwen. Reaching Out: The Three Movements in the Spiritual Life. (1975 Doubleday. New York) p. 68

 

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