Professors care about you

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Kristina Wyman's picture
Professors James Lang and Jason Bell

When you are sitting in a classroom at Assumption College, what do you see?  Do you see a distant expert at the front of the room, dishing out wisdom to unformed adolescents?  Or do you see a community of learners, all engaged in the same quest to understand and contribute to the sum of human understanding?

It may surprise you to learn that the College and its professors want students to see the second vision, not the first.  At Assumption College, according to our web site, “we are committed to exploring with great gusto the relationship between faith and reason. By participating in this 2,000-year-old-tradition, today’s students join generations of scientists, artists, writers, and philosophers who have engaged in a search for truth across disciplines.” Notice how that statement invites you not merely to sit at the feet of your teachers, but to “join” them in seeking “truth across disciplines.”  Students have much to learn from professors, but we professors also have much to learn from students.

Here at Assumption we are joined together by our academic goals, but truly flourishing communities go beyond work and obligations to joy and friendship. One of the most fundamental acts of any strong community, from Jesus and his disciples to your friends and your roommates, involves sharing a meal together.  When we break bread with the members of our community, we participate in a life-sustaining ritual that joins all members of the human family.

In partnership with the Student Government Association, the Center for Teaching Excellence and D’Alzon Fellow recently used the Thursday Three survey to ask students how frequently they had shared a meal with their professors.  We heard many students reporting that they had shared meals with professors, both in Taylor and Charlie’s and off-campus, but we also heard plenty of students reporting that they had not yet participated in this kind of communal activity with faculty.

Many of those same students expressed a desire to do so in this anonymous survey. “I have not, but that’d be a great opportunity,” wrote one. Another: “I have never had a meal with a professor. I know that some professors do that and I think it›s a great way to connect with students.”  And a third: “Never. Wish my professors would do this.”

We agree. But sometimes professors may think they are too busy to even eat lunch, and you might more often find them at the office microwave than at Taylor, heating something fast so they can get back to grading papers. But no professor decided to be a professor to grade papers, even though this is important, or to eat microwaved burritos. They became professors because they were once students whose passion to learn was ignited by great teachers. Your professors want to communicate this passion to you, gaining new friends in service of the most important causes, of truth-seeking, justice, and wisdom. 

Jesus called his disciples the “salt of the earth.” Here is a beautiful metaphor: it does not take much salt in a dish to make all the difference in the flavor. The results from our survey seem to support the ancient wisdom: a single shared meal with a professor seems to make a big difference to what students get out of college. Students were asked to what degree they agreed with the statement,“AC professors take a personal interest in the lives of their students;” the percentage of students who strongly agreed was 17 percent higher for those who had shared a meal with a professor. In a recent study of graduates of another college,  the percent of students who answered “yes” to the question of whether they would have chosen that college again was 10 percent higher for the group of students who had shared meals with professors that for the group who had not dined with professors.

These benefits accord with the best evidence from our cultural heritage: the unleavened bread of the Passover, the loaves and fishes of the Gospels, the Last Supper, and the most famous epic poem, Homer’s Odyssey,which sometimes reads like a recipe book, all point to the ways in which single meals can become eternally important.

This is “college” itself, from the root word “collegium,” meaning a partnership. Assumption College is a place for collegium. Ours is not a massive, impersonal university. We have no part of the education “industry.” Students are not products. Our college is built on a human scale, for the good of learning and the health of the soul.  

We are spearheading an initiative this semester to encourage more faculty to eat in Taylor, and to invite students to sit down with them for lunch.  But remember, there are a lot more students than there are professors. Whether you ask in advance or as you see your professor walk into Taylor, we are sure that she would be glad to accept an invitation to share some conversation with you over lunch in the dining hall.

Correcting papers and microwaved burritos can wait.  Professors signed up for this job because they once were students who had great teachers:  they were students who became friends with professors, and became teachers. The hope of our college is that all our students will become teachers, obviously not always in the classroom, but in all the valuable vocations of human life. You are valuable partners, and you will take this college with you wherever you go. We are what we eat—or better, we are in college, in collegium, with those with whom we break bread.

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