Art by Autumn Hardwick
What is the Pepperdine experience outside of Malibu, and what brings us together when we are geographically apart? Are we basing the Pepperdine brand off of being in Malibu, or are we confident enough in our University’s values to apply them everywhere that our community members are?
On Aug. 6, in a conversation with the Graphic marking the one-year anniversary of his presidency, President Jim Gash said he chose the theme “Belonging” for Pepperdine in the 2020-2021 academic year.
Gash said the theme involves belonging to the Pepperdine community, belonging to God and belonging to a common shared experience. With Pepperdine community members apart from one another due to COVID-19, the idea of a shared Pepperdine experience has drastically transformed and might even seem impossible.
Despite Pepperdine’s efforts to foster “belonging” this year, some students struggle to feel like part of the Pepperdine community, especially as they experience hardships in their respective locations.
The partial reopening of campus has further illustrated the stark division between students who live in the Malibu area and those who don’t.
When Pepperdine partially reopened campus Feb. 24, students who visited campus received free Chick-fil-A and burritos, as well as goodie bags that included hand sanitizer, Pepperdine-branded face masks, tote bags and tape measures. Administration members who were present on the reopening day acknowledged that not all students could be there for the event.
“Even though this isn’t the big celebration yet, we wanted to say, ‘Welcome back students’ to the ones who are able to come,” Vice President for Student Affairs Connie Horton said Feb. 24.
For the students who were not able to come, the administration could’ve done more to extend the offering of community.
For instance, during the week of Feb. 15, students living in Texas and other Southern states experienced a historically devastating winter storm. While students faced widespread tap water difficulties and power and internet outages, they did not receive any individual outreach from the Student Care Team, which, according to its website, exists to “help students overcome adversities and thrive,” or other departments of University administration.
Multiple students living in Texas confirmed with the Graphic via text that they did not hear anything from the Student Care Team or the University in regard to the hardships brought about by the storm. It’s clear that Pepperdine’s theme of belonging and the Student Care Team are not serving the purpose they claim.
While the Student Care Team welcomes students to contact them directly for potential support, we believe the pressure should not solely be placed on students in the midst of adversity to reach out for help. The administration has sufficient information to know which students are facing a snowstorm appearing all over the news. A personal email from administration to students saying that the whole University is thinking about them could’ve gone a long way.
During the remote period, the administration’s communication to students has centered around hopeful timelines to return to Malibu. However, the rush to return to normal overlooks the struggles many students are facing.
In a perfect world, all Pepperdine students would love to be on campus. The administration’s desire to welcome students back in person is completely valid. Many students often associate the Pepperdine experience with Malibu, and the University certainly uses our campus’ beautiful landscape as a selling point to prospective students.
Due to a combination of economic, health and safety concerns, the current reality is living in Malibu is not possible for a large percentage of the student population, regardless of the status of campus, since housing remains closed.
Instead of measuring how back to normal Pepperdine is by how many students are in Malibu or on campus, the University should focus on extending Pepperdine’s community and values to where students are currently living.
We’re not asking for equal treatment; we’re asking for equitable treatment. We’re not asking for a Chick-Fil-A sandwich to be mailed to those of us who live out-of-state when Malibu students get them. We’re asking to be cared for and noticed on the same level as students arriving on the Malibu campus, relative to our own situations.
Moving forward, if Pepperdine claims to promote a shared University experience, then, using the Student Care Team, it should put the same effort into engaging with remote students as it did with students who were able to visit the Malibu campus.
“An email or a social media post or just something that let me know they cared about my welfare would have been nice,” Life & Arts Staff Writer and Texas resident Addison Whiten wrote in a text message. “Especially since right after it happened they flooded our emails and timelines with information about campus being open again, which does not even matter to us right now.”
Part of the responsibility should also be on professors to understand the unique situations each of their students are in and to be willing to be adaptable and reasonable. We’re thankful for the many professors who are already doing this, but some professors need more flexibility and empathy.
The University should celebrate the fact that a select number of students can visit campus, but it should remember Pepperdine is more than its Malibu campus and strive to make non-Malibu students feel like they still belong.
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