Inside USD

Students Explore USD as Sacred Space

Monday, April 27, 2009

img_0710It isn’t hard to imagine USD as a quaint castle on a hill. Its distinct, Spanish Renaissance architecture and vivid landscaping are hard to miss amid the surrounding city sprawl, and within the university parameters, students have access to worlds of knowledge only the truly inquisitive may explore. The beauty and privacy of USD affords many comforts and advantages, but it may also appear separate and fantastical to the outside world.

On Wednesday, April 22, students in Evelyn Kirkley’s interdisciplinary honors class, Sacred Things, came together to discuss whether they consider USD a “theme park university” (“Is USD like Disneyland up on a hill?”) or a sacred space. The class research event was held in Salomon Hall, where student presentations explored themes of fantasy vs. reality, authenticity vs. superficiality and diversity vs. homogeneity, with energetic displays ranging from a mock-up dorm room to Monopoly, to root beer pong. The presentations were elaborate because the stakes were high: their grades were dependent on a public vote of whose arguments were presented most effectively.

Mindy Ehren defines “sacred” as, “a space that’s unique and set apart and held dear to someone that is inhabiting it.” Her group built a dorm room, complete with cardboard door and ID-only access to show, “how people display certain things, posters or pictures to represent visual piety. The desk is seen as the altar; the bed is the sanctuary. We even have some ‘forbidden fruit’ in the refrigerator!”

On the other side of the room, another group has taken it a step further with TV screens flickering scenes from Animal House and a USD basketball game behind a full root beer pong table set-up.

“Here we have a contest between student-created and administrative-created rights of passage, as illustrated by an interactive metaphor: a beer pong tournament,” says Analise Marcus as she poises to shoot pong, “The idea is to show that while administrative rights of passage, including Torrero Days and Orientation, are designed to create a unified USD community through establishing a common identity, since college is a limbo period where students are trying to find their individual identity, student-based rights of passage are slightly more conducive to that: beer pong tournaments, hook-up culture, partying.”

Diego Torero shows up for the fun, drawing attention to a table that sports a sign that says, “In 1961, USD’s mascot changed from the Pioneers to the Toreros.”

This exhibit includes a timeline, beginning with a preliminary drawing of the campus that shows that USD’s architectural style hasn’t changed much in 60 years, though much else has. Junior Brittney Beyer likes that all the buildings on campus are the same style. “It really has a unifying effect on the campus,” she says. ”I’ve heard people say it’s easier to study.”

“Where students socialize and study is where they spend a majority of their time, and so it gains a sacred quality because of the rituals that develop attached to this space. It becomes a holy space,” said junior Leah Wickman from the next booth. She defines “sacred” as, “Those things in your daily life that you can’t live without, that you need, that you carry with you all the time, that you feel lost without. For some people, cell phones are sacred.”

Her group has taken the stance that USD is, in some ways, a theme park university because, “a lot of it was created for show,” but they believe there’s substance underneath and that it is sacred to those who call it home. “Our campus is prearranged and organized in a beautiful way, but I think there’s a lot more to it than that.” says junior Alex Owen, “I think there’s a lot of culture that goes through it. There are a lot of students with high aspirations. It’s not just a beautiful campus. It’s vibrant!”

— Stefanie Wray

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