Category Archives: multiculturalism

What Exactly IS Oasis?

I have been trying to work out why I can not find a direct answer to the question, ‘What does a chaplain do?’ or ‘What exactly is Oasis?’

I am in complete sympathy with the questioner, genuinely wanting or needing to know. I should have an answer. But I can’t seem to nail it.

I have tried to console myself that if you ask a person to describe what a banana tastes like, they would have great difficulty explaining. But as the Oasis Coordinating Chaplain, shouldn’t I know what Oasis is? Shouldn’t I be expected to reel off a cogent answer?

My problem has come to the fore again, because we have begun to meet with the Campus Planner to work out what needs to be done with architects and builders to fit out the ‘new Oasis’ – starting only with the shell of the building we have been moved into.

At the same time, the new Director of Student Services needs answers to that question to become confidant that what the university is providing for students fits in with the university’s strategic plan, is comprehensive, and its elements are not unknowingly being duplicated by different student service agencies.  Fair enough!

And the University of Tasmania are flying me over to Hobart in April to consult with them about what we have been doing at Flinders, and what is this ‘Oasis’ thing?

As a result, I have been beating myself up of late for not having some clear answers.

But I am beginning to see what should have been obvious from the start – there are no neat answers! The defining question is incompatible with the very nature of Oasis, and also with chaplaincy. Or put another way, the nature of chaplaincy and Oasis is likely to be incompatible with the culture of a utilitarian, segmented, consumerist, institutionalised bureaucracy. Universities have become competitive, multi-million dollar businesses. Chaplaincy may easily be seen as small fry of little consequence.

Chaplaincy evolved out of the church’s need to provide religious services to those geographically displaced from their local church – those in hospitals, prisons and armed services, for example. There is no such need in today’s universities because most religious needs can be met in the local community.* The days of traditional ‘looking after our own’, sectarian chaplaincy in secular institutions are numbered. Such chaplaincy is of little consequence to a modern university,

At Flinders the changed role for university chaplaincy emerged from the internationalization of the university. Harmony on a pluralist campus requires attention to social cohesion in the face of difference. This attention to the quality of relationships, a concern quite central to religions, broadened the scope of an inclusive multifaith chaplaincy to attend to the whole campus – pastoral care to all, regardless of faith or no faith.

In an ideal world, all university staff would be pastoral carers, customizing every situation and conversation to individual students – students who come from highly diverse cultural, national, religious and academic backgrounds. In a pastorally caring university there would be little need for chaplains or for a centre like Oasis. But the pressures of the modern university have created new needs – we do what the university would normally be expected to do but is unable to do.

To take up such opportunities requires a major shift in thinking for chaplains – no longer the ‘rescuing’, ‘telling’ salvation paradigm, but the hospitable, listening, empowering and long-term-committed mentoring (‘walking beside you’) paradigm.

It means being closely connected to the life of the university but not meddling in it, filling gaps collaboratively, connecting the disconnected, doing what needs to be done without taking over, enriching, enabling, and avoiding the turf wars and ego games.

Because Oasis is adaptive, continually responsive to the expressed and unexpressed needs of the university, it might be thought of as an ever-changing, process-centred community responding contextually and existentially to presenting situations. That’s a mouthful!

So there is no neat answer! Just an evolving, fluid narrative.

I think ‘God’ is comfortable with that!

Whether universities are, remains mainly to be seen!

 

* (The exception might be Muslim Friday Prayer, because the Muslim ‘holy day’ is a Friday, a working day. And the provision of Muslim prayer rooms is a priority because of the logistics of prayer five times a day.)

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Finding Common Ground

A heading in an email digest I received today from The Chronicle of Higher Education caught my eye.

Campuses Focus More on Meeting International Students’ Needs.

With more foreign students on American campuses, the conversation is shifting from recruitment strategies to practices that help them succeed.

Retention is becoming the name of the game.

This week I attended a staff seminar, Graduating Global Citizens in Science & Engineering, exploring the results of a research project initiated by Melbourne University’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education, ‘Finding Common Ground – enhancing interaction between domestic and international students’

Feedback from international students indicates that although they rate the courses they have undertaken in Australia highly, the one thing that they regretted was that they had not made lasting friendships with local students. Clearly, international students choosing to study in Australia hope that an important side benefit of their international experience will be an engagement with Australian culture, and friendship with locals in particular.

One thing from this seminar really stood out for me.

We know anecdotally that local students and international students do not tend to engage outside the classroom. Local students already have their own circle of friends. ‘Finding Common Ground’ suggests that cross-cultural engagement must take place in the classroom.

This has big implications for university teaching – now the teacher must not only be culturally intelligent, but value and structure for cross-cultural engagement within his or her curriculum and teaching practice.

Some Flinders teachers shared their practice.

Associate Prof. Kenneth Pope from the School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics told how one of the subjects he teaches is tied into Engineers Without Borders, an international organization that undertakes practical projects in developing countries. So  inter-cultural issues and cross-cultural experiences are actually embedded within the Flinders course itself.

Dr Ingo Koeper, Senior Lecturer in the School  Chemical and Physical Sciences, told of a weekly two hour discussion session he set up for a small group of postgraduate students from diverse backgrounds. While the students may have expected the session to have focussed on improving their understanding of course content, as the teacher, he had put this to one side and encouraged the students to talk about themselves. Only when content issues were raised by the students themselves did he go there. The main thing was for the students to interact with each other.

This is hospitality, as we understand it in Oasis, in the classroom!