Staff editorial: Identifying ways to improve Convocation
Pepperdine University is defined by the traditions upheld by its community. One of these traditions is Convocation, a program that, according to its mission statement, exists “to help Pepperdine students build Christian faith, affirm Christian values, and address the moral and ethical dimensions of current issues.” Convocation is seen as an important fulfillment of the university’s Christian mission, and the administration has been reluctant to alter it in any way. However, it seems clear that the Convocation program can and should be reformed, and this can be done without diminishing the promotion of Pepperdine’s faith-based mission
At its best, Convocation leads to the spiritual enrichment of students and a deeper sense of community brought on by the shared values that the program upholds. But by making it mandatory for students to attend 14 credits worth of Convocation per semester, the university risks making Convocation a hassle that many students eventually come to resent.
If Convocation feels like a chore, that feeling may override the positivity that can be gleaned from the experience and detract from the true mission that Convocation seeks to promote. The resentment that some have come to associate with Convocation is felt most strongly by commuter students because it often requires them to set aside time (and gas) to drive to campus and attend a lecture.
Seeing as roughly 43 percent of the student body lives off-campus, this is an issue that affects a considerable number of our peers.
In evaluating the Convocation system, the efforts made by the Convocation office have not gone unnoticed. There is an entire series devoted to explaining the inner workings of various world religions, some Convos discuss healthy sexual activity and dating and many more engage students in a variety of ways, but Convo can be improved in the following ways (without dramatically altering the framework of the program or detracting from its core mission):
1. Introduce a graduated Convo system
As students get closer to gradution necessarily the extra time they have begins to decrease as they begin searching for and accepting internships, jobs and the many other stressors that come with being upper classmen. Reducing the number of mandatory Convo credits gradually over time (i.e. 14 as a first year, 12 as sophomore and so on) may not only further incentivize attendance, but it might also foster a greater sense of spiritual indepedence as students will hopefully cease to view Convo as an unnecessary burden to their schedule and start to view it more as a healthy addition to their liberal arts education.
2. Introduce off-campus options
Off-campus convocation options could make attendance more convenient for commuter students while building a sense of community among off-campus students. Though the logistics of this option may prove difficult, if done correctly, it could be just the link the Pepperdine community needs to connect with the surrounding community.
3. Facilitate diverse conversation
This concern is usually addressed with the response that Pepperdine is a Christian university, and so it should come as no surprise that university programs promote Christian teachings and values. For some (perhaps even most), Pepperdine’s overtly Christian mission was a deciding factor in their enrollment here.
However, Pepperdine is a top-tier university that excels academically and provides wonderful opportunities for those who attend. It is perfectly reasonable that non-Christian students would be drawn to Pepperdine despite its religious sentiments clashing with their own.
Since Pepperdine is a university that promotes the investigation of truth and the lively discussion of diverse opinions, we believe that non-Christian Convocation options can be made available to students without compromising the university’s core values.
The fact of the matter is there are students on campus who either practice different faiths or observe no religion at all, so it may be prudent to encourage interfaith dialogue through Convo that could prove vital to spiritual growth.
4. Promote Club Convos
Club Convos are a great alternative to the traditional Convo experience, but many students do not know about the option. Increased promotion of this aspect of Convo could really help students fnd the edge many seek to enhance their experience.
Pepperdine is firmly grounded in Christian values, and the policies and actions of the university do well to further those values. The diversification of Convo will in no way jeopardize that foundation. If anything, the dialogue that it will encourage may lead to greater faith-building and community-building.