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April 18, 2024

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Spring Housing Guide

Residential community discusses personal beliefs

When sophomore Scott Brummel first heard of the SEARCH Community this past holiday season, he was going through a bit of an existential crisis.

“I thought everyone had an agenda,” Brummel said. “Everyone wanted to save my soul or to find me enlightenment, and I felt like I couldn’t find an objective way to find answers for myself.”

Brummel, an agnostic who was raised Christian, became the president of the community this semester.

The community itself is in its second semester overall.

It consists of 35 to 40 students living in McDonald Hall’s west wing, said SEARCH adviser Michael Brown.

The community launched a student organization, also called SEARCH, which allows about 70 to 80 students to join without living in the community, Brown said.

SEARCH stands for Students Engaged in Active, Reflective, Caring and Holistic learning, and it is an idea that had been in the works for roughly a decade, Brown said. He helped create the program with Carney Strange, a professor in Higher Education and Student Affairs who conceived the idea.

Brummel said the residential component of the community allows discussion to be sparked at any point of the day.

“We have a lounge that people just kind of meet at and study,” Brummel said. “Just given our nature, these [heavy, existential] questions come up.”

Rene Tricou, a sophomore who grew up as a Baptist Christian, said she believes in spirituality, but not religion, and compared SEARCH gatherings to classroom settings.

“Coming into SEARCH, everyone was understanding and empathetic,” Tricou said. “The idea is to accept [people] as part of yourself and learn from their experiences, along with your own.”

Brown cited a recent national research project that revealed about 75 percent of students coming to campuses self-identify as spiritual, and almost 50 percent show interest in developing their spirituality and asking questions.

It can sometimes be challenging for students to address these questions at public universities, where students may feel pressured to keep these questions inside, Brown said.

“SEARCH is our way of saying … you don’t need to check these questions at the door,” Brown said. “The goal of the community is spiritual and religious literacy.

“If you think about it, world perspectives are shaping politics, social issues, relationships [and] families,” he continued. “To not have a basic understanding of some of these perspectives, I feel like it’s really educational malpractice. We’ve got to be able to have these conversations, even within a public institution.”

Brown emphasized SEARCH is not a religious club, but rather a community that engages students’ personal questions about their purpose and existence.

“This is not a community that is about answers,” Brown said. “It’s for students that have sacred perspectives as well as secular perspectives, as they wrestle and think about and ponder the big questions of life.”

Brummel said many college courses can teach skills, but they don’t touch on existential questions and who people are. He said religions seem to be popular for this purpose, but the group does not favor religion over other forms of thinking, such as science and philosophy.

“We’re kind of meeting the needs of our environment,” Brummel said. “If America was a country where we relied more on philosophy or we relied more on science, I think some of our questions would reflect that.”

To ensure students have an opportunity to voice their opinions, the group will come up with an existential question every week, with multiple meeting times and locations to accommodate class schedules.

“These are not … religious questions, necessarily,” Brown said. “They’re spiritual questions about otherness and encounters with difference, the meaning of life.”

Brummel said the group uses texts from different religions to improve spiritual literacy during the discussions and to make sure scholarly perspectives are applied to the discussions.

He defined spiritual questions as questions of meaning, purpose and how “we orient ourselves to this thing called existence.”

Both Brummel and Tricou said conversations rarely get heated, despite the wide range of perspectives in the community.

It is possible to meet great friends through the community, Tricou said.

Since the group is relatively new, it is looking for wider representation, and Brummel said the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths are represented to a degree.

“Unfortunately, we don’t really have much of a representation on the Eastern religions, or even very skeptics or atheists, so those are things we are looking for in the community,” Brummel said.

The community brings in people to speak, including a Buddhist professor and a Jewish professor, Brown said. The group is also planning to bring in an Islamic graduate student as well as someone to speak about the connection between spirituality and the environment.

For Tricou, the “ultimate religion” is love; she emphasized the importance of community.

“You should love everything that you come into contact with, because in essence we all started out in the same place if the Big Bang theory is really where it’s at,” she said. “We are all here communing together.”

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