New Partnership with Hereford Residential College

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New Partnership with Hereford Residential College

The Contemplative Sciences Center and Hereford Residential College have launched a new partnership to create a living-learning community that promotes student wellbeing and flourishing at the University and beyond. Incorporating contemplation into students’ daily lives is vital to this effort, and starting this 2018-19 academic year, Hereford added a focus on mindfulness and mind-body practices to the residential college’s existing foci on environmental sustainability and social awareness.

“The three foci are distinct, but they’re also interrelated,” says Hereford’s faculty principal, Karen Inkelas, “effective sustainability efforts require mindfulness of one’s actions, and it’s difficult to address social awareness if one does not have self-awareness.”

In addition, Inkelas says that mindfulness, social awareness, and sustainability are all foundational to wellbeing. “Wellbeing is not simply the absence of disease or even just physical or mental health,” she says, “but a multidimensional concept that pervades all aspects of human life: physical, intellectual, environmental, spiritual, social, emotional, financial, and occupational.“ A growing body of evidence indicates that contemplative practices such as mindfulness interventions can improve self-awareness, self-regulation, and learning and significantly impact overall wellbeing.

CSC’s Executive Director David Germano says that Hereford’s threefold orientation also mirrors three great challenges of our time—wellbeing, social inequity, and environmental degradation. “Similarly,” he says, “it aligns well with CSC’s focus on education intersecting with the facilitation of student flourishing, with flourishing modeled as involving wellbeing (individual and collective, social and environmental), contemplation (experiential and whole person forms of learning and skills development), and engagement (to engage these three great challenges in sustainable and scalable ways).”

For CSC, partnering with Hereford is thus a natural pathway towards its pursuit of a new model of higher education that enables students to flourish individually and to contribute to the collective flourishing of others during and after their time at the University. Such a model requires bridging traditional gaps in higher education that residential colleges intentionally help to fill: between students’ intellectual development and their personal development; between academic life and residential life; and between students and faculty. 

“Much of students’ undergraduate experience transpires in their residential lives. It’s where they navigate important emotional, social, cognitive, and identity issues,” says Germano. “Yet, at large universities in particular, this critical personal development can become disconnected from students’ academic lives and that has negative consequences—not only during their time at school, but also beyond when students struggle with professional pressures, work-life balance, and wellbeing in their homes and communities.”

There are a total of three residential colleges at UVA, which provide academic, co-curricular, and extracurricular programming; interactions with faculty fellows; and student-led activities and governance through a housing experience that harkens back to Thomas Jefferson’s original Academical Village. Hereford is especially reflective of Jefferson’s vision, albeit with modern sensibilities. Designed jointly by local architecture firm VMDO in conjunction with Tod Williams + Billie Tsien of New York City, Hereford’s five residential buildings, dining hall, classrooms, social spaces, and amphitheater are oriented around a tree-lined central lawn on Observatory Hill, with breathtaking views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and a community garden. It’s the kind of setting that invites both social engagement and quiet contemplation.

Inkelas, who is also an associate professor at the Curry School of Education and Human Development and Research Director for Undergraduate Initiatives at CSC, is a renowned expert on the college experience. Her research has focused on the positive effects that living-learning communities can have on undergraduates academically, socially, and emotionally.

The partnership with CSC will only add to those positive impacts and the strong character and traditions already observed at Hereford, which is well-known for its diversity. Among the 208 current Hereford residents, 67% are students of color, one in five is an international student, and 54 different academic majors have been declared.

Living at Hereford with her own family, Inkelas gets to know its residents well and wants their time at UVA to be one of the best of their lives. Lately she’s become concerned, however, about national data suggesting that today’s college students are experiencing rising rates of stress, depression, and anxiety.

Germano says that students today face unprecedented challenges personally, academically, and professionally. The extraordinary rate, complexity, and pervasiveness of fundamental change in all quarters of society creates anxiety, while the constant distractions and judgmental character of digital technology and social media often leave little space for reflection and balance. “We need to provide educational environments that best support students’ abilities to navigate this volatility in resilient, intelligent, and compassionate ways,” he says, “and students need to be supported in cultivating skills in the academic and residential quarters that apply to all parts of their lives–resiliency, pattern recognition, empathy, bias reduction, and the like.“

Hereford’s new partnership with CSC offers a proving ground for the impact that contemplative practices and a dedicated focus on wellbeing can have students’ social and emotional development and learning. Planned assessments of this impact may inform and improve student outcomes at the University more broadly.

“For Hereford students, this living-learning community will serve as a powerful incubator of wellbeing and flourishing at a critical juncture in their development, but it also will be a powerful place where student affairs staff, faculty, and others can collaborate on new experiments, from which we can learn lessons that are extendable across residential life on grounds,” says Germano.

This year marked a soft launch of Hereford’s expanded focus on student wellbeing. More robust programming is set for the coming years, and renovation plans are underway to better accommodate a wider range of curricular and extracurricular activities at the site.

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