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Learning community explores spirituality

Michael+Brown%2C+director+of+SEARCH+learning+community%2C+speaks+about+students%26%238217%3B+spiritual+development+throughout+their+lives+Tuesday+evening+in+Centennial+Hall.

Michael Brown, director of SEARCH learning community, speaks about students’ spiritual development throughout their lives Tuesday evening in Centennial Hall.

One learning community on campus exemplifies the way spiritual differences can bring people together, not divide them.

Atheists, Christians and Jews are a few of the spiritual groups into which members of Student Engaging Active, Reflective, Holistic Learning, or SEARCH categorize themselves.

Housed in Conklin Hall and inhabited by 40 students, SEARCH, a learning community, is “a place of exploration, not a place of practice,” said Michael Brown, co-advisor and co-creator of the group.

Brown spoke to a group of residents at Centennial Hall about this learning community Tuesday night. Brown created SEARCH with Carney Strange, who is also the co-advisor.

The two wanted a learning community to bring together students of all religious and spiritual beliefs to discuss these big questions of life.

“Students are coming to campus with these big questions and they need a place to talk about them,” Brown said. “If you like intimacy and you like connection and you like family, SEARCH is a great place.”

SEARCH members explore questions relating to the existence of a higher being, the possibility for an afterlife and the meaning of life. Brown’s discussion focused on helping students become comfortable with talking about spirituality and religion and discover how they define their spirituality.

SEARCH is the first of its kind at a public institution in the United States, Brown told the group of more than 20 students, a mix of Centennial residents and SEARCH members.

“Campuses are often times afraid to create spaces like this because they’re afraid it’s going to get weird,” Brown said.

Brown, however, thinks it’s “educational malpractice” not to have an environment promoting spiritual discussion. Religion, he said, touches all aspects of life. It shapes war, politics, social issues and families.

“My point is, what’re we doing as a public institution in response to that?” he said.

Lacy Hoening, a junior, is a first-year member of SEARCH. She was drawn to the group because she likes asking questions about spirituality.

“The community is the best part, the closeness, the fact that everyone respects your beliefs,” said Hoening, who is a member of the Christian organization, H20.

Freshman Brandon Miller joined the group for much the same reasons.

“I want to join a community that would make my experience and spiritual development more of a process, worth the time,” he said, adding “something where I can strengthen my faith by challenging it or destroy my faith by finding something different.”

Miller came to SEARCH as a Christian but now considers himself “exploring,” after “going through a lot of arguments and embracing other evidence.”

Allison Jones, a junior and resident advisor at Centennial, said Brown’s talk was a success in bringing a different aspect to the residence hall.

“Religion isn’t discussed often in residence halls, so we wanted to bring out a professional speaker to relate to the residents,” Jones said.

Brown’s research has focused on the spiritual questions students have. From a study he did of students from several nationalities, ethnicities and religious associations, he found all the questions tended to be similar.

Another observation of his is that most students tend to fall within one of three categories regarding their faiths: convinced, curious or conflicted.

He gave two pieces of advice to the students gathered in Centenniel.

“Even if you think you’ve landed, you’re only a better person if you understand the diversity of other people’s perspectives,” he said to those considering themselves “convinced.”

But most might consider themselves either inquisitive or just lost.

“You might think, “Where am I?” Brown said. “Can you kind of figure out where you fit?” he asked the students. “You’re not alone.”

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