It all started with an idea twelve years ago. Many universities were in the process of helping students avoid high-risk behaviors. SMU experienced several student deaths and wanted to prevent future tragedies, according to Associate Chaplain Judy Henneberger.
“There was no doubt that SMU would benefit from having a pastoral presence in the halls for students needing a confidential resource as well as someone to support particularly first-year students transition to college life,” said Henneberger.
The program gives seminary students the opportunity to work with undergraduates living in SMU’s Residential Commons.
Residential Community Chaplains help students transition into college life. The chaplains also work with faculty and staff.
“Students are faced with many challenges and distractions,” said Henneberger. “RCCs can be someone who listens, guides, advises, mentors and supports students during times of crisis, academic difficulty, relationships, family issues and grief.”
Baylor, Georgetown, and Creighton University offer similar in-resident chaplain programs. However, SMU is the only one that has seminary students serving as chaplains.
There are 12 Residential Community Chaplains this school year. Lloyd Resident Community Chaplain Veronica Davis joined the program to be more connected with college students.
“I like doing college ministry and it seemed like a realistic way to get more practice and experience with students,” said Davis, a fourth-year at SMU Perkins School of Theology.
Davis believes the opportunity has made her more aware of what is going on in the undergraduate community.
Seminary students go through an application process to join the program. The process includes interviews with the Office of the Chaplain and RLSH, and training. Chaplains are required to connect with their communities at least eight hours a week.
The program’s appeal has spread across Dallas. Two of the RCCs are students at Dallas Theological Seminary. The rest of the chaplains attend Perkins.
The Residential Commons strive to make students aware of RCCs presence. The chaplains are introduced to residents during welcome week, floor meetings, and council meetings.
RCCs live in the commons and are able to have informal and confidential meetings with students.
Armstrong Commons Resident Community Director Lauren Cove believes there are benefits for having RCCS. RCCs are able to help students of all faiths and backgrounds.
“As an institution of higher education, we are called to develop the whole person. And faith/spiritual development is a component of that development,” said Cove.
The program benefits the chaplains as well. RCCs receive mentors, a stipend, and hands-on experience in counseling and pastoral care.
Davis believes her time as Residential Community Chaplain will help her in the future.
“The RCC program has taught me that if I want to be a chaplain with college students, then I need to go find them. Unlike in church ministry, students do not normally seek me out, I have to go to them,” said Davis. “It has also taught me about the importance of building relationships with students. It is easier to have a serious conversation with a student who I know than with a complete stranger.”