A weekly discussion group called “What’s In Your Heart?” lead by lecturer in theology and campus minister, Dr. John Aupperle, was instituted this semester.
The group meets Thursdays at 6 p.m. in the Metten Room, and according to flyers hung around campus, features discussions about “issues related to minorities, sexual orientation, cultural and religious diversity, marginalization and inclusion.” The group was instituted during the fall 2017 semester.
Aupperle has lead another group for nine years called “What’s On Your Mind?” and said that this program has two goals.
“Number one: to have some interactions. That includes some fun, some conversation, a supper experience, whatever,” Aupperle said. “And then, to also give students the opportunity to discuss ideas or concerns of which they may have that are either part of our campus life, or life beyond the campus.”
Aupperle said that “What’s On Your Mind?” only has two rules: “nobody ever gets laughed at” and “what is spoken there stays there.”
Logan Nawrocki, a senior accounting major, started attending “What’s On Your Mind?” last year, and has become a regular attendee. Nawrocki, who said he has attended the weekly meeting almost 20 times in total, mentioned lively conversation, fellowship and the fact that Aupperle is “a really great guy,” as his reasons for regular attendance.
“I didn’t want to go to it at first,” Nawrocki said, “because I thought it was going to be a lot of kids talking about hot button issues and stuff that I just didn’t have the time to sit and discuss with people.” Nawrocki said that when he did attend, he found it as a “nice hour, hour and a half of camaraderie.”
Nawrocki said that the program is about having a good discussion as students share their day, their viewpoints on topics or things they may otherwise not get to talk about. Nawrocki also described the group as a “no judgment zone” and said that Aupperle facilitates whatever discussion the students create.
Aupperle said that the discussions are led by the students, and that this system works out very well, citing the group’s discussion of the 2016 election, which he described as contentious, as proof of its success.
“One of the most informative, interesting, cordial and polite conversations that I had concerning the election happened at ‘What’s On Your Mind?’” Aupperle said.
Aupperle said that any student can attend both “What’s On Your Mind?” or “What’s In Your Heart?” and said that any student concerned with inclusion or marginalization should attend the latter.
“What’s In Your Heart?” was created as a response to feedback from several meetings by an advisory group commissioned by President Br. Norman Hipps O.S.B., Aupperle said, and an open forum in which about 30 students attended.
“Out of that setting came the clear desire to have some kind of a group, a program, a place where the issues of racial tension, sexual orientation, international students, under the umbrella of [inclusion and marginalization], could be safely discussed. And that is what has given ‘What’s In Your Heart?’ birth,” Aupperle said.
Aupperle said that the group has two unofficial focuses.
“The first one is: to provide a setting where people can come and say what they need to say,” Aupperle said. “The second is: whenever there is evidence and documentation that there have been trespasses that are of a racial or a sexual orientation nature, to try to find a way to address that.”
Aupperle said they have just had the second “What’s In Your Heart?” meeting. 11 students attended, including homosexual, heterosexual, African American and international students. He described the discussion from that day as informative and “very, very vigorous.”
“At this point, I’m primarily interested in listening to what is verbalized by students. Because I think that will constitute what we need to do, what we can do,” Aupperle said, in reference to the youth of the program and how he expects it to change as it ages.
Aupperle’s relationship toward students is a large reason the older “What’s On Your Mind” program has been a success, Nawrocki said.
“I think Dr. Aupperle is the thing that definitely puts this apart from anything else. I think when you get a man like Dr. A that cares so much about the students at Saint Vincent, it’s a different animal. And I think he’s really done a great job throughout his years of building relationships and building trust with students and really getting them [at the program] because they want to talk to him, talk to other people, I think that is really what sets it apart from another program” Nawrocki said.
Nawrocki said that he has not yet attended “What’s In Your Heart?” but that he intends to if his schedule permits.
Aupperle explained his view on the importance of listening to what students have to say.
“I am an advocate that probably the people that know best what is happening on campus, what should be happening on campus, what could happen on campus is students. [Students] are the people that are in the classroom, in the dormitories, [students] are on the campus at night,”
Aupperle said. “I see the student as being the person who needs to be heard.”
Aupperle said that he wants students to think about the values expressed on campus, many of which he says come from the Benedictine Tradition and are very positive.
“My hope is to try to have students begin to think about and address ‘what are the dynamics of this campus that can make it an even better campus?’” he said.
He also said that students need knowledge of legal structures and related channels of communication in order to successfully deal with problems concerning marginalization.
“As you begin to deal with conflicts, how they’re handled both in terms of appropriateness and also in terms of being resolved require a knowledge of the legalities,” Aupperle said. “Sometimes we set out to do good things. But we aren’t informed as to how to do that most appropriately and most meaningfully.”
Title IX, The Americans with Disabilities Act and The Civil Rights Act of 1964 were listed by Aupperle as need-to-know in this regard.
Aupperle explained the real-world issues that the new program addresses in light of the two incidents involving SVC female students this semester.
“‘What’s In Your Heart?’ has to do with the fact that while our college is clearly a kind of bubble, and should be, that bubble is also living in a very real world,” Aupperle said. “And out there, there are questions of racism, intolerance, there are certainly questions of sexual orientation, there are questions about Muslims, people of other cultures, how we relate to them… So this group, I believe is a response to those kinds of challenges that hopefully will make our college a better place.”
Aupperle, center, being presented with an award by Hipps and Peter Reiter, then-president of the Student Government Association Executive Board
PHOTO: SVC FLICKR