New Notre Dame first-year courses to include focus on wellness, cultural competency, academics, discernment

Author: Dennis Brown

University of Notre Dame

On the recommendation of the Academic Council, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., president of the University of Notre Dame, has approved two one-credit courses for first-year students that include components that focus on physical and mental wellness, spirituality, cultural competency, academic success and discernment.

The required yearlong experience will be offered through Notre Dame’s innovative First Year of Studies beginning in fall 2015 and will feature large assemblies, specialty presentations and smaller breakout sessions organized through student residence halls.

The change, which will eliminate the University’s physical education and swimming requirement, was recommended by an ad hoc Committee on Physical Education Requirement Alternatives, a group created last fall by the provost and endorsed by the Undergraduate Studies Committee of the Academic Council.

“Rebranding and further centralizing health, wellness and cultural competency initiatives campus-wide — within the context of an integrative paradigm for our First Year Experience — better enables us to meet the evolving needs of students,” said Hugh Page, vice president, associate provost and dean of the First Year of Studies program. “It also promises to strengthen and diversify linkages between the academic, co-curricular and residential dimensions of the larger Notre Dame ethos and the Congregation of Holy Cross educational charism that informs it.”

Erin Hoffmann Harding, vice president for Student Affairs, added: “Our division is delighted that this new requirement will provide first-year students with information and perspectives designed to help them to grow as individuals, foster a healthy and inclusive community and make the most out of their Notre Dame education.”

The new requirement will be offered through First Year of Studies but jointly developed and overseen by the Division of Student Affairs. Content will be organized around seven themes:

  • Orientation to University life, in which students will be exposed to the structure of the University and receive assistance in understanding available resources and how to get the most out of their time at Notre Dame.
  • Strategies for health and wholeness, with a focus on how to cope with stress, improve nutrition, establish healthy relationships and an understanding of human sexuality in a Catholic context, manage finances and other wellness-related skills.
  • Community standards and cultural competence, which will be designed to create a caring community; foster a spirit of inclusiveness on campus; develop a deeper understanding of the complex interactions of gender, sexual orientation, class, ethnicity and race; promote responsible attitudes toward alcohol and drug usage; enhance integrity, self-reliance and personal accountability; and emphasize the importance of bystander and ally intervention in situations that pose risks to members of the Notre Dame community.
  • Strategies for success in the classroom, which will provide a better understanding of intellectual resources on campus, the landscape of a research university, research opportunities, goal-setting and prioritization, critical thinking, social conventions in academic and professional life and study skills.
  • Discernment, with an emphasis on academic, spiritual and vocational options through the selection of a major, discovery of a “voice” and development of a heart for service.
  • Cultivation of a spiritual life through the embrace of the Congregation of Holy Cross charism in lay life, development and living of a personal faith, and cultivation of a spiritual and contemplative reflective life.
  • Mind/body awareness and physical activity, including the development and implementation of a personal fitness plan, adoption of healthy habits related to exercise and nutrition and the integration of healthy mind/body activities.

In addition to the new course requirements, voluntary, non-fee-based courses in swimming, physical fitness, mind/body training and other activities will continue to be offered through the University’s RecSports department. Students will be strongly encouraged to participate weekly in physical activities and to document their involvement.