THE SSU COMMUNITY DEVELOPS…
In 1975, a new university was born on the east coast of Canada that sought to embody a unique alternative to typical Canadian higher education. In spite of its small size, it would be called a university because it aimed at a universal education, with an integrated humanities curriculum. Instead of a bland, secular worldview that often eliminated all talk of spirituality, its teachers would encourage a broadly Christian perspective, without imposing strict rules on its students. After a challenging first decade, a clearer vision emerged in which the university developed an emphasis on providing a quality educational experience by creating a rich community life and shared, travel-based learning experiences. The community of staff and faculty that served the university over the years also became increasingly sensitized to the ways in which some Christian approaches could be experienced as exclusive or even oppressive, and we wanted to chart out a better path.
One of the unexpected surprises along the way has been discovering the gift of being small. At any given time, we have never had more than a hundred students studying at SSU. While there are certainly challenges with being Canada’s smallest university, our small size has enabled us to develop a learning environment in which authentic and caring relationships are central. Whether travelling together, working together in the kitchen, or discussing ideas in the classroom, students push past the natural differences of personalities and viewpoints and experience a taste of “unity in diversity.” Similarly, students have opportunities to develop relationships with staff and faculty not only in the classroom, but at mealtimes, community events, and during shared travel experiences.
As we continued to develop over the years, a phrase that became important to us was the desire to nurture a “fire at the centre” of our community. Just as a hearth is used to represent the centre of the family home, so the faith and life-long commitments of our faculty and staff were seen as vital and unique resources that we treasure, keeping vision flowing organically from intentionally lived life into the SSU community (and back again!) We know we are embodying this fire at the centre in the best way when all who are a part of the community experience being “loved and known,” even in the midst of the messiness and imperfections that are always a part of relationships.
It is still important to us that students and others experience being “loved and known” at SSU. We want people to serve at SSU who will contribute to this. So as well as having the necessary skills and competencies for their role, we will be looking for those who have demonstrated, in their lives and their social contexts, a deep respect for everyone (in spite of differences) and a commitment to being humble and honest team players. All staff, faculty and volunteers at SSU are expected to contribute to the community’s ongoing growth and transformation while gratefully and openly being transformed themselves by their experience in this community.
In keeping with these hopes and goals, we committed ourselves not to discriminate on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or race/ethnicity. We are interested in the heart, in the demonstrated character and maturity of the individuals seeking to work at SSU. It is very challenging to capture the essence of this kind of character and maturity, but three classic examples in the Judeo-Christian tradition (that also resonate with most spiritual and wisdom traditions) are:
- People who are committed to aiming for the Golden Rule (treating others as they would like to be treated)
- People who show evidence of the “fruit of the Spirit” (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control)
- People who seek to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with their God
We have never been associated with any particular denomination and our staff, faculty and board members have always included people from a wide variety of faith traditions. What we expect are shared values of seeking after “justice, beauty and compassion,” demonstrated respect for diversity, and appreciation for both traditional understandings as well as a critical and open engagement with new ideas and possibilities. We do not need to think alike, even about the cultural controversies of our times. We understand that everyone’s journey is unique, and we welcome students to journey with us wherever they currently find themselves. Honest and thoughtful struggle with our doubts and beliefs is a part of any healthy intellectual or spiritual growth, and we want this to characterize the transformation that is a part of this academic experience.
This has been our mission statement:
The Mission of SSU is to prepare people, through academic and personal development, for a life of justice, beauty, and compassion, enabling a humble, creative engagement with their world.
While we have tried to avoid rigidity or exclusion in how we define ourselves, people sometimes ask about a “statement of faith.” Over the years, we listened to voices that helped us recognize when certain ingredients of such statements led to division or exclusion, and we wanted something broader and unifying. For many years now, this has been the statement that we have offered:
We rejoice to affirm the historic creeds of the Church,
proclaiming our faith in the one living and true God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We uphold the authority of the Scriptures as the
Word of God.
We confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and endeavour
to follow and serve Him by the empowering
and guidance of the Holy Spirit.
We do not ask students, staff or faculty to commit to this statement, only to recognize and respect that it has shaped the roots of the school over the years. For us it represents a rich heritage that is much deeper than is often reflected in some contemporary manifestations of faith. As a university, our commitment is to grapple honestly, with critique and appreciation, with our own heritage and those of our local and global neighbours.