Columnist: Lyn Pace
Welcome to Oxford
We just welcomed 500 new students to Oxford College of Emory University a few weeks ago. They’re now settled in and in the thick of things with their classes, co-curricular activities, and new relationships.
It’s fun to be a part of this new experience every year. A time when you can sense the meaning and purpose of what we do in each question you get from a concerned parent leaving their child in our hands, on our campus. Or, the excitement in a new student’s face when you share with them the many opportunities in which they can engage and the new found independence that comes along with the college experience. I love my job.
New to our orientation program this year was a “Welcome to Oxford” picnic hosted on the lawn of Allen Memorial United Methodist Church. The idea came to the pastor at Allen Memorial, Rev. Josh Roberts, earlier this year. He simply wanted to cook some hamburgers and hot dogs and invite interested students. His mistake was telling me about it.
“Well, you know we could put it on the orientation schedule and make it accessible for everyone — even the sophomores,” I said excitedly when he pitched the idea. Over the subsequent months leading up to August, some of us from the college helped Josh work on the idea while he went out and recruited other churches in the city, city employees and city council members, the Lions Club and residents to help him pull off what was turning out to be quite the occasion.
On Friday, Aug. 26 more than 400 students and community members congregated on the lawn eating, talking, and playing games. There was music, a little rain (which didn’t stop the student crowd from coming), and a lot of fun.
One student said to me that he never imagined getting to know the local residents when he came to Oxford. Indeed, I thought, our students and most college students don’t come to college to get to know the local residents or the city. We all probably understand that. That doesn’t mean, however, we should keep to ourselves. Getting to know our neighbors no matter how long we live in a place or regardless of the purpose we have in living there is a responsibility. It’s a civic duty. More importantly, though, it’s a human value — creating relationships with our neighbors.
I say all of this against the backdrop of another event that’s been going on these last few weeks while our students have been moving in: the controversy surrounding the Doraville-based Masjid Attaqwa Islamic community and land that has been purchased by the community. It’s clear that there are a number of views on this and I’m clear where I stand on it.
Creating relationships with our neighbors, which includes learning about them and the ways in which they identify (including their faith), is crucial to this one precious life we’ve been afforded. For me, it’s part of my Christian identity, but I also believe it’s our calling as human beings.
Our college community is diverse and the citizens of Oxford, Georgia are diverse. They don’t always get to spend much time together, which is one reason we created the event on Aug. 26, and it’s why we plan to do it again and hope to include other events during the year. It’s a start in the journey of getting to know each other better, which will eventually help us understand that we are much better together than apart.
It’s my hope and prayer that we’ll begin to know this in our community in all ways, but especially as we welcome our neighbors and friends from the Masjid Attaqwa community.
Rev. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University.