Priorities for Dordt

Aaron Eshelman– Staff Writer

Being a transfer student coming into Dordt, one of the things I saw through my application process was that The Wall Street Journal had named Dordt the top school in the country for student engagement four years in a row. Dordt seems to be very proud of this, and with good reason. This is an enormous achievement for any university, especially a small Christian school in rural Iowa. And even though I have only been a student here for a little over two weeks, I can see why Dordt has earned this honor.

Dordt is truly different, different from both my old school and other schools my friends attend. The way Sioux Center embraces Dordt and the sense of pride Dordt students and staff all seem to have are remarkable. While I’m sure there are a multitude of reasons this community atmosphere has formed, one reason is undoubtedly traditions like the Freshman Olympics and other campus events. These various events help integrate freshman and other new students into Dordt culture; they make people feel welcomed and at home.

However, I can’t help but feel that being early in the semester and amidst a global pandemic, our priorities as a university haven’t exactly been in the right place. While people come to Dordt because of its engaging community, no one comes to Dordt for the Freshman Olympics, or a block party, or a move-in-day concert on the campus lawn. While these are part of what makes Dordt engaging, that is not what is important.

You can see in The Wall Street Journal’s own criteria for the award that Dordt takes so much pride in. According to a 2019 article on the award from Dordt.edu/news, the four key questions asked to determine a schools level of student engagement are: “To what extent does the teaching apply student learning to the real world?, Do the classes challenge students?, Are students engaged in critical thinking and learning?, To what extent does the teaching support reflection on, or making connections among, the things the student has learned?”

People come to Dordt to get a first-class education – an education that has already been hindered by the fact that we took many classes half-online for two weeks. People also come to Dordt to play sports. Dordt offers 16 varsity sports and two club sports. These programs bring in hundreds of students each year, many of which would undoubtedly not be at Dordt if it wasn’t for these athletic opportunities.

The student turn out at athletic events is another thing that makes Dordt special – the volleyball crowds are truly a spectacle – and yet we are already limiting the number of students and fans that can attend volleyball and football games this fall. If we are taking these steps, then why are we not also at least limiting the number of people that can be at other campus events, such as the Freshman Olympics?

So, while these campus events are fun, having them while classes are forced online and sports are delayed seems somewhat tone deaf. Of course these fun events are important, but they are also dangerous because they increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. Whatever your thoughts are about the actual danger of this disease to college-aged individuals, one thing you can’t argue is that these social events increase the risk of infection, sending us all home. This would cancel sports and, even more importantly, lower the quality of education we are all paying to receive. If such a thing happened it would be a much bigger blow to the Dordt campus community and to the level of student engagement, than simply cancelling these events.

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