On Sunday mornings, I like to watch shows like Chris Matthews (so sorry the show is ending), Meet the Press, and all the other news talk shows as I flip channels back and forth among them. At the same time, I like reading the Sunday papers while having a late breakfast. As I was getting the breakfast dishes following the talk shows, I changed the channel to Super Soul Sunday, one of Oprah’s shows on OWN. I was not sitting down attending to the show, but what I heard caught my attention.
Oprah’s guest this past Sunday was Rainn Wilson from the television show The Office. I might be the only person who has never watched an episode of The Office, but I was familiar with Rainn Wilson from other roles.
Oprah was interviewing Wilson about Soul Pancake. I may be the last to have heard of it, but it sounds really interesting. From what I gathered from the part of the interview I heard, the idea behind Soul Pancake is to provide a kinky, quirky, fun space, literally and figuratively, for people to ponder the big universal questions.
The question Rainn asked Oprah was something to the effect of, “If you could ask God any question, what would that be?”
Oprah’s response was that she would ask, “Why?”
The question that came to mind for me immediately was, “What is my purpose?”
I’ve been asking that question for a very long time, and I suspect others, especially students, have asked that and similar questions that are never verbalized nor shared.
When I think about the value of the concept of cocurriculum laboratories facilitated by highly skilled student affairs staff or others, I think the labs provide a space similar to Wilson’s Soul Pancake where students will be encouraged to ask the big questions and ponder them with others who have similar questions.
I was so desperate to find an answer to my question about purpose that when I turned 30 – a particularly introspective year for me – I went on a retreat with an unfamiliar group that had advertised – or I interpreted the advertisement as promising – that participants would leave the retreat knowing their purpose in life.
Our students won’t have to grasp at such straws if student affairs and faculty work together to provide cocurriculum laboratories that help students identify cocurricular programs and activities that further reinforce the objectives of courses, and also facilitate discussions among students that help them to intentionally hone their communication skills while entertaining big questions.
A skilled facilitator will find ways to help students practice the skills needed to also develop cultural intelligence, practical skills, habits of civic engagement, and social responsibility. The cocurriculum laboratory is one way to address how students can attain the all-important qualities that we promise in our college and university mission statements.
Whether we open spaces for students to ponder the big questions through Soul Pancake or cocurriculum laboratories, we owe our students this much.