A Letter From The President: Dr. Spina Writes On Campus Culture And Community

Dr. Eric Spina
University of Dayton president

Among the things I love best about UD are the meaningful relationships that are built here. The special friendships and connections among and between students, faculty, and staff that often continue long after graduation reflect well the very heart and soul of this university.

As we strive to advance the university and enhance our impact in the world, we can’t lose that special sense of UD community that results from our values-based, Catholic and Marianist education and that is outlined so well in the Commitment to Community pledge that we all make. These principles for community living shape the sense of family spirit and welcome that attract many students here, as well as deepen our understanding of what is required to learn and live in true community: respect and love for oneself and others, an emphasis on the common good, and a commitment to do the hard work every day to sustain and strengthen the bonds of community.

Our authentic, generative culture is different from that at other universities, and it’s a culture I am committed to preserving. Whenever I meet students on campus — in classrooms, residence halls, the RecPlex, and homes in the student neighborhoods — and alumni in cities across the country, I know that our special community is alive and well.

But there is a part of that culture that keeps me awake at night. It keeps me awake because I worry about whether some students place too much emphasis on drinking to excess as a cornerstone of the UD community. This concerns me because it too often leads to choices that violate the values and the rules of our campus community and the fundamental precepts of Marianist values. Such behavior can cause real and significant damage to our students’ lives, health, futures, and even the value of their UD degree. Alcohol toxicity, sexual violence, physical and emotional injuries, and legal trouble cannot be easily dismissed by us individually or as a University.

Concern about this unhealthy aspect of UD student culture predates my time at the University and has been a top priority of past presidents; it continues to be a top priority at every level  — from the faculty and staff to the administration and all the way to the Board of Trustees. For many years, a key responsibility of Student Development and their allies across every part of campus has been to address these issues, which they have done through education, empowerment of peer leaders, strengthening the Code of Conduct, and stronger enforcement, among other things.

We are not aiming to make UD a dry school by any means, but we need to ensure we set expectations and create guardrails so that our community doesn’t go over the line that protects the safety of our students, our police, and our community. Those guardrails and expectations seemed to be working for most of the day on St. Patrick’s Day. But when some students began to do things that endangered themselves and others, it became clear our community standards were not being honored.

During my first two years as president, I very consciously have spent a lot of time with students in a variety of different settings, but not when they are engaging in high-risk behavior. I’m happy to meet in groups, over dinner, or individually. I love the special qualities that set UD students apart from others and respect the campus culture that creates the environment where those special qualities take root and flourish. Do I respect the traditions and culture of this University? Absolutely, when student behavior is safe, respectful, and supports positive community building. I’m determined to foster a high-quality academic and social community, where students form lifelong friendships in a safe and healthy environment as they prepare to be leaders in their communities.

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Because I know so many of our students personally, I love our students, and I care about their lives, their safety, and their futures. I believe that most students agree that there needs to be appropriate bounds on their behavior because they also care about the health and safety of everyone in this community as well as their own future.

Learning and living in community in the Marianist way calls on us to extend a warm welcome to all as well as to challenge behavior that is harmful. It is my hope that we can emphasize this kind of genuine community formation, and still allow plenty of room for the safe and legal fun and fellowship that can be an enjoyable part of college life.

As a University, we will continue to look at what has been done to create a healthy community, what has worked and what hasn’t worked, and we will also look at new ideas and new approaches. All of these efforts come from one place and one feeling we all share: we love the University of Dayton and want our students to be healthy and succeed.

Photo courtesy of udayton.edu.