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Xavier University

Four years just weren't long enough

By Jake Heath
On September 14, 2011

Community. The word saturates every conversation that involves anything Xavier. It's written on essays and job applications, spoken in meetings and addresses. It's even a part of our newly-themed cafeteria. Though a hefty part of why we are here, the word has lost its meaning due to overuse and fallen into the category of ambiguous terms like "love" or "economic crisis" or "NFL lockout." Obviously, these words have meaning. But there has been something lost in their over-popularity.

What do we mean when we say the Xavier community is what brings kids from around the nation to southern Ohio for four of the greatest years of their lives? When we say the Xavier community has the most intimidating home court advantage?

I suppose part of the word's power lies within its omnipresence, covering every aspect of Xavier, every niche and friendship in a single, all-encompassing word. However, to really discover the heart of this word requires a fresh look from some "older" students.

Xavier University has a large population of professors who are more than proud to call Xavier their home. Many of these were XU students. So I asked, after graduation and more education, why come back? Their answer…this "community."

New to the faculty as of 2010, Dr. Rebecca Muich, professor of Classics, explains why she and colleagues like her have chosen to return to their alma mater, not only for a prestigious teaching position, but also to rediscover this sense of belonging.

"I think what is so attractive about coming back, why I feel so lucky, is I know what kinds of students I will be working with," Muich said. "I know that they are well prepared, but beyond that, they are excited about learning. And they see the value of education. They don't have to be told why it's good to be smart. I really felt like I could learn to be an excellent teacher here."

It is difficult to place boundaries on something like the "feeling" of a community. But to understand it better, there can be three common reasons why alumni choose to return: for who we are, why we are here and what we do. It is these three answers that are common among these ex-students and compel them so strongly to come back to what they call their home.

"[While I was in graduate school] I was constantly thinking to myself, ‘I am so glad I went to Xavier' because I would have always gotten lost. You know, I never had to put my student ID number on the top of my test. I was a person. I had an identity. I can't imagine being an undergraduate in that situation," Muich said.

Who we are: Xavier students are people. We are individuals, not numbers. It is the first stitch that holds this family together because each of us has a name. "I felt like this was home. I want to give current and future students the same opportunity that I once had," Dr. Justin Link, professor of Physics and graduate of 2002, said. A university that empowers communal growth, Xavier inspires individual freedom simultaneously.

"Everyone here was extremely supportive and everyone here is a family. I consider myself extremely lucky to be in the [physics] department…we have a close knit family. Everyone supports each other. This is a great place to be for students, faculty and staff," Link said.

Why we are here: Xavier students are here to learn. We do not flaunt our ability to showcase concerts, basketball games or partying before we flaunt that Xavier University thrives on curiosity, academia and ingenuity. Dr. Andrew Hill, professor of philosophy and graduate of 1996, speaks highly of his position, using philosophy as a means to stay in touch with what he once felt here. "It was a way to never have to leave the candy store," Hill said, after discovering his reasons for his interest in philosophy.

"I'm interested in how the world works. Physics is one way of exploring that; math is another. Theology is another. Philosophy another. And I thought that maybe one of the things I really like about philosophy is that it was the broadest of those. That you could be in philosophy and do the philosophy of God, philosophy of nature or philosophy of mathematics."

The comprehensive, backward, interdisciplinary curriculum that is presented at XU binds one student to the next. It provides a level platform to see the rest of your classmates eye-to-eye. Everyone takes Theological Foundations. Everyone reads Plato's Republic. Everyone takes writing composition. As freshmen, we are already bound to this University.

"The thing I love about Xavier is that it is a liberal arts university. And I think that a lot of colleges today are really just places for job training. They don't do much more than that. But you go to liberal arts university, and it might have the effect of helping you to get a job, but principally that's not what it's about. It's about swimming in the ocean of human learning," Hill said. "It's not even like you come in and you take the classes for your major and you have all these other boxes to tick off. It's more like there's this holistic intellectual development that you get here, and your major is just kind of your emphasis within that."

Xavier students want to be learning as much as Xavier teachers want to be teaching. Dr. Greg Braun, professor of physics and graduate of 1999, recalls that it is not only his colleagues that wish for his personal best work, but the students do, as well.

"When you walk into the class here, most of the students are on your side…the students want you to do well, the other faculty want you to do well. Everyone is friendly and nice."

What we do: Xavier has maintained an aura of fellowship. Through thick and thin, crisis after crisis, the Xavier community still feels the same after so many years. Dr. Steven Herbert, head of the physics department and graduate of 1984, sees that the campus might have changed, but its community is consistent.

"It's always been a family. The whole University feels very close and family-like. Just like a family, there are people that don't get along at times, but there's something special about Xavier since I've been here on faculty. And even before, I've felt it, but I felt it as a student as opposed to a colleague. And it's not just faculty. It's faculty, and support staff, and professional staff and administration. We're all here for the same reason."

Xavier used to be home to many commuters. It used to have large trees in the academic mall. There were houses that lined Ledgewood Drive and an entire street through the greenspace. At one time, Gallagher Student Center did not exist and a parking lot, notoriously nicknamed "the Pit," sat where Cintas now sits. Campus has physically grown, but the community is the same.

So what is the Xavier community? It's a gravitation. A slow and constant force that pulls everyone to Xavier's center. The force is felt student to teacher, subject to subject and building to building. It is undeniable and inescapable.

"About six months in the job, I remember walking down the hall and just kind of standing in front of the window curtain, and I remember specifically thinking ‘This is where I was meant to be and this is what I was meant to be doing.' How that transition worked was not just serendipity. It was God's will," Herbert said.

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