By Mallory Sherwood, Staff Writer
Bonnie Buchanan was by Rebecca Venable’s side the entire night.
The night Venable’s dad died last year, Buchanan found Venable a ride to the airport at 4 a.m. to fly home to Colorado, and she sent letters and e-mails everyday to support and encourage Venable during the week of her father’s funeral.
Buchanan, junior art major from Lubbock and spiritual life assistant in Morris Hall, is one of 15 SLAs spread across campus in the freshman and sophomore residence halls.
The SLA program has received both positive and negative reactions from students since it began placing students in positions as peer leaders and mentors in freshman and sophomore residence halls three years ago.
“You don’t see a lot on campus with the spiritual life assistants because it was never intended to be a center-stage spotlight, a ‘look at us, we are SLAs,'” said Mark Lewis, director of spiritual life and student ministries.
“The intention of having an SLA was to enhance the spiritual focus that we seek to maintain in the residence halls.”
Jon Carroll, sophomore English major from Abilene and SLA in McKinzie Hall, said, “We are here to help with any issue going on, from family issues at home, girls, school, theological questions, anything.”
Venable, sophomore interdisciplinary major from Longmont, Colo., labels herself as biased, but she said she is fond of SLAs and has been influenced by them.
“Bonnie was my SLA last year in Gardner, and she prayed for me, sent me letters and was constantly checking up on me,” Venable said.
“I really don’t know if anyone else would have done that for me had it not been for her. This is what Bonnie is to me: a living, loving walk of Jesus.”
Despite Venable’s experience with Buchanan, many students have said they don’t even know who their SLA is.
“They are good if people choose to use them, but really, they are underused,” said Eli Rickman, sophomore political science major from Grapevine.
Lewis contributes the lack of communication to two factors: Either SLAs have not had the time to connect with all of the residents on their hall, or students simply do not understand what is going on in the residence hall, regardless of how many times it is announced.
“It is the SLA’s responsibility to get out and be among the residents, but common sense is going to say that the closer the resident is geographically to the SLA, the more impact they are going to have on them,” Lewis said.
The administration is pleased at the response to the SLA’s outreach in the dorms, Lewis said.
“Is it effective? Yes. Being able to measure that and quantify it is challenging since we are talking about their goal is to help Christ be formed in students,” Lewis said.
“What we can measure is events. Are our Bible studies being attended? Yes. The SLA is responsible to make sure the word of God is being studied in an informal setting, and this year we have Bible studies taking off left and right.”
Dr. Mimi Barnard, director of Residence Life Education and Housing, said these student positions, including the assistant director, resident assistant and SLA, are highly influential.
“I’ve said it before, and I’ll continue to say that I believe their roles are critical for the culture of our university,” Barnard said.
“Because they live with them, they know the students in ways that faculty and professional staff do not. They are on the halls late at night, encouraging their residents, playing and laughing with them, praying for them, assisting them in so many ways.”