Date of this Version
Journal of the National Collegiate Honors Council 20:1 (Spring/Summer 2019), pp. 9-18.
This essay proposes a conception of honors programs and colleges as sacred communities that acknowledge and embrace the unique human dignity of each of their members. Drawing on Ron Wolfson’s congregational model articulated in Relational Judaism, McMillan and Chavis’s definition of “sense of community,” and the pedagogy of educators such as Paolo Freire and bell hooks, I argue that to create a true culture of inclusive excellence, an honors program or college should not be constructed as a checklist of “exceptional experiences for exceptional students” but rather as a “community of relationships.” Leading with a student-centered, holistic focus that recognizes and cherishes the specific students served by an institution enables proactive engagement with what Richard Badenhausen has termed the “monumental demographic shifts” in higher education and expands the frequently too narrow conception of who belongs in honors. It also requires grounding our efforts in the data (from the American College Health Association and the U.S. Governmental Affairs Office, among others) reflecting that 55% of U.S. college students reported being diagnosed with or treated for an illness or disability in the past twelve months, more than 88% have felt overwhelmed, 64% report anxiety, and 30% are food insecure, while 51.7% have found academics “traumatic or very difficult.” The essay concludes by offering concrete strategies for creating authentically relational communities by ensuring that honors programs, advising, and coursework are specifically designed to recognize and welcome the diverse and complex intersectional identities of students and to address the myriad challenges they may face.