By David Collins
"I would not want your job!" These are not words one enjoys hearing from others; but when conversations turn to work, as they often do, this statement inevitably follows.
Whether speaking with a friend or colleague with whom I am well acquainted or talking to a complete stranger, I generally find myself explaining — almost defending — why I actually enjoy serving as dean of students at the University.
I have found that many people believe the focus of my work is on student misconduct, but my interaction with students goes well beyond the realm of discipline. Most of my contact with students comes by assisting them with a variety of circumstances or through working with leaders of social clubs, service organizations, special interest groups and the Student Association in their various pursuits and activities.
In every kind of situation, including those that involve student misbehavior, my colleagues and I in the Office of Student Life have the opportunity to develop relationships with some of the best and brightest young Christian men and women in the world.
I believe the best evidence that demonstrates the exceptional character of Harding students is also the greatest source of encouragement for me in my position. In the second chapter of Philippians, Paul calls each of us who has been united with Christ to an attitude of selflessness, an approach to life that imitates our Lord by looking to the interests of others. Over and over, I am privileged to witness the way in which students live out this passage in service to others and was greatly encouraged recently when I saw firsthand the actions of hundreds of students following a devastating tornado in our state.
But most acts of service done by students are observed by very few. Simple acts of kindness, often done in secret as Jesus taught in Matthew 6, provide encouragement to those who are struggling and satisfy needs of others that would otherwise go unmet. Whether privately studying and praying with a fellow student who is searching for truth, helping each other through illness or grief, or visiting shut-ins or residents of a nursing facility, students quietly give of themselves in numerous ways.
Sometimes, though, the need is so widely known that the response cannot be hidden. Students often band together in academic disciplines, social clubs, athletic teams, organizations and as a collective body to combine resources to sufficiently meet a particular need. They have collected thousands of dollars in a matter of hours to aid fellow students facing dire circumstances and given countless hours of physical labor to assist local residents with significant home improvements.
Not long ago, several social clubs joined together in raising necessary matching funds to purchase an electric wheelchair for a fellow student. Another organization purchased materials and built a fence for a friend and Aramark employee shortly after the passing of her husband and her relocation following a house fire.
As alluded to earlier, recently I witnessed students responding once more to the needs of others. On Feb. 5, Arkansas and several surrounding states were devastated by tornados. Thirteen Arkansans lost their lives, dozens were injured, and hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. Most of the destruction in the state resulted from an F-4 tornado that trekked 123 miles on the ground.
Early on Sunday, Feb. 10, approximately 800 students accompanied by several faculty, staff and local church members boarded busses and vans or joined carpools bound for the town of Clinton, where they met with the local congregation at the high school auditorium for worship service. That morning I noticed tears in the eyes of countless students as local members spoke about and prayed for families who had lost all they owned and, even worse, lost loved ones. I can only hope that the beautiful singing of more than 1,000 voices was as uplifting to our brothers and sisters in Clinton as it was to me.
The group then spread across the Van Buren County landscape and spent the remainder of the day helping with the cleanup of homes, businesses and land. As I joined students at disaster relief headquarters, a large group diligently sorted through hundreds of containers of donated clothing, stopping to help each resident find the very best in just the right size.
My role as dean of students often positions me to see the very private acts of kindness done by students and certainly allows me to see their collective good works. As I interact with young men and women at the University, I am continually encouraged by the amazing way in which their faith is alive in genuine service to others.
That is why I want my job!
David Collins, assistant vice president for student life and dean of students, is a 1992 alumnus who received the doctorate of education from University of Arkansas at Little Rock.