Graphic by Abby Wilt
Getting your convocation credit just got a whole lot easier.
Pepperdine announced changes to the chapel requirement May 6, following a reimagining of the Office of Spiritual Life on May 3. New requirements for students lighten the credit load — reducing needed credits from 14 to 10 — and base participation on class standing and residential status.
“We want to invest with quality in what we’re offering our students instead of quantity,” University Chaplain Sara Barton said in a May 4 exclusive interview with the Graphic. “And we think that will meet their needs; we think it will build community better and we actually are excited about what we can do when we collaborate with our community to effectively put on those programs.”
Convocation is a historical aspect of Pepperdine, with chapel services offered daily in the first years of George Pepperdine College, Associate Chaplain Rachel Collins said. This new policy aims to address student needs and create a developmental approach to students’ involvement in spiritual life.
“I envision this being like an on-ramp to all of the different spiritual activities students can be a part of,” Collins said. “So having a centralized space particularly where first-year and sophomore students can come together, experience a piece of spiritual life at Pepperdine, and also be exposed to all of the different opportunities that they have from the Hub.”
Pepperdine suspended the Convocation requirement in spring 2020 due to COVID-19 and has not held Convocation events since. The University let go of Convocation Office staff in early February, signaling a coming change within the office.
The new policy, shared exclusively with the Graphic earlier this week, is divided into two parts. First-year and sophomore residential students will each be required to attend 10 chapel events in order to receive an A in the 0.5 credit Seaver 200 class. One grace absence will be allowed. Juniors and seniors will not have mandatory attendance at spiritual life events.
In years past, students selected their event attendance over the semester for a culmination of 14 events. With the new Seaver 200 program, underclass students will be guided on a 10-event curriculum of weekly mandatory events.
First-year residential students will participate in First-Year Foundation, with four classwide chapel events in Firestone Fieldhouse and six small group meetings. First semester, first-years will participate in “RISE pods,” — spiritually-informed resilience education and training groups — and second semester they can opt in to a different small group.
Sophomores in Malibu will participate in Sophomore Faith in Action, which will have four classwide events at the Brock House and six small-group meetings. Similar to second-semester first-years, sophomores will opt in to one of the offered small groups.
Sophomores studying abroad will also participate in a 10-week curriculum, but it will be led by the International Programs directors and their respective staffs.
Juniors and seniors, without the Seaver 200 requirement, will elect for themselves to attend spiritual life programming and are encouraged to take on leadership roles, Collins said.
“We think that juniors and seniors should be equipped to practice opting into their spiritual experiences,” Collins said. “That will be their reality when they graduate, so let’s have them start practicing now.”
The academic requirement for Seaver 200 remains in place, despite student pushback over the years, which is intentional, Collins said.
“I also think it’s really valuable to have spaces where students that come into our university can all gather together, where they are exposed to intentional curriculum and content that’s focused on their needs, so I think developmentally it is important to have this required piece,” Collins said.
Under the former Convocation Office, specific programming was credit-based for convocation — like Celebration Chapel, language chapels, club convocations and other miscellaneous events put on by Pepperdine organizations.
Collins said the Spiritual Life team will be in communication with faculty and other community members about which events will continue to be offered with the new Seaver 200 plan.
“Our required programming is one of many different ways we’re involved in spiritual life,” Collins said. “So some of these programs that we know students love, like different worship programs and chapels, will be offered perhaps as a track you can choose and some perhaps not credit-bearing but still available as something that students can opt into.”
The development of the new Seaver 200 program was collaborative across administration, Barton said, with input from Student Affairs, the Seaver Academic Council and the University Academic Council. The Spiritual Life Team also drew from community feedback, Barton said.
“We conduct regular program reviews and are in cooperation with our Office of Institutional Effectiveness,” Barton said. “Our program reviews were taken into consideration as well as our focus groups that we have conducted over the last several years.”
The restructured program addresses community concerns with Convocation like too many events, scheduling issues, difficulties reaching the credit requirement and a lack of shared experience at spiritual life events, Collins and Barton said.
“I don’t necessarily see this as forsaking any sort of tradition, I actually think this represents an enhancement of spiritual life — this is one piece of that vision for enhancement overall,” Collins said. “I think more so, this is a responsiveness to student needs and flexibility, and the ability to pivot as we start to evaluate programs.”
It also provides an opportunity for the Hub for Spiritual Life to connect people to spiritual life events, Barton said.
“We want to meet [students’] needs by helping them get connected to the many spiritual life opportunities available to them,” Barton said. “So the Hub will serve that purpose, not overseeing everything in spiritual life, we will oversee many important programs, but also connecting students to the many options that are available to them in spiritual life at Pepperdine.”
Collins and Barton said they welcome community feedback regarding this policy change and their “door is open.”
“The goal is that all students feel like they have a place to experience their spiritual life on our campus in a positive and encouraging way,” Collins said.
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