HNU “Rite of Passage” ceremony, 2017
Holy Names University (HNU) asks all students to embrace the University’s core values of human dignity, radical hospitality, social justice, and service.
While all of these values are integral to the Holy Names experience, radical hospitality is especially present during this time of year. Radical hospitality at HNU is, simply put, being welcomed as a member of the family.
HNU’s Vice President for Student Affairs, and Title IX Coordinator, Michael Miller, explains it this way: “The concept of hospitality is well-understood, but radical hospitality is different. It’s about meeting others where they are, embracing them as who they are, helping them, and working with them. For students, it’s about welcoming them into our community of learners while being in their communities and part of their experiences. As educators, we help students prepare to be in the next place on their journey. Working with the Sisters for 12 years, I’ve learned that demonstrating radical hospitality is a critical means to striving for fairness and social justice.”
This fall, HNU welcomed a record number of new undergraduate students to our campus. These students experienced an orientation that was infused with radical hospitality.
Orientation activities began with the traditional “Rite of Passage” ceremony, in which incoming students climb the 106 stairs at the center of campus, cheered on by their families and the HNU community. Stairs are chalked the previous day by upper-class students, who inscribe them with each new student’s name. On the day of their graduation, students will see their names on the stairs again and process down them as a community out into the world.
During the first two days of orientation at HNU, parents and families are extended a welcome into the HNU family. While new students meet the sisters over dessert the first evening, parents and families have their dessert with staff and faculty separately. The dessert is special – it recreates the experience the sisters had when they arrived in Oakland in 1868 from Quebec, Canada, and were served strawberries by Father Michael King, pastor of Saint Mary's Church. There are also special orientation sessions for parents and family members that help them understand how they can help students succeed in college.
“Being intentional about including people here on campus is really important to us. The mission of student orientation is making the culture transparent here,” says Heather French, Dean for Student Development and Engagement. “Students leave the program feeling more prepared, included, involved - that they’re already part of campus.”
Another component of radical hospitality is creating a safe space for people to take risks. This starts on day one, an hour after students check in for orientation. Student leaders emphasize that whatever students put into orientation is what they’ll get out of it, encouraging them to “put themselves out there” by introducing themselves to someone new.
Says Rhica Savella, Orientation Team Leader and senior at HNU, “Our job is to make sure that students feel welcome, and that they know where their resources are. We are friends now, and I will be there for them throughout the year. This is my first year in this role. I couldn’t really imagine myself doing it when I was asked to, but the experience made me realize that I do have a leader inside of me.”
Says Heather French, “Students know that they are not a number here. They are ‘known’ by many staff and faculty on campus. If a student is struggling, someone on campus steps in to help. No one leaves here thinking that they didn’t matter.”
This article first appeared in the September 4, 2017 edition of The Catholic Voice