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Eastern’s Identity

      What is a liberal arts college? What is a Christian college? What is college at all? All these questions could be answered separately, but together they ask another question. What is Eastern University? The sum of those individual answers wouldn’t be enough to do that big question justice, because Eastern University is more than the sum of its parts. As the world changes and the role of Christian higher education is examined more closely, it is important to understand our identity as a college. This question has become even more pressing as the university undergoes changes each year. The addition of a football program, the new “courage” brand, and the restructuring of the academic environment come to mind. To some, these changes represent a positive evolution in this institution’s continuing history. Others worry that too much change will lead to EU losing what makes it unique. It is easy to speculate where we will be in a few years from an outside perspective, but to gain a clearer understanding of what our identity is, and how these trends affect it, I sat down with a few key figures who have been guiding these changes.

      Dr. Bettie Ann Brigham spoke with the Waltonian staff at the beginning of the semester about the practical importance of expanding our sports programs and why certain decisions were made in the past year. “Sports programs bring students,” said the then vice-provost. Dr. Brigham is confident that amidst lower enrollment rates, we can invest in programs like the new football program to grow our traditional undergraduate population. The lower enrollment rates Dr. Brigham referred to are part of a larger trend. Across the country, four-year colleges are struggling to keep enrollment growing. This has hit private liberal arts colleges especially hard in recent years. Out of context, the push to increase enrollment through investment might draw criticism, but in the context of the larger trend, it is prudent to focus here. This was a point Dr. Brigham stressed over the course of the interview.

      Dr. Joseph Modica, the university chaplain had a hopeful perspective to share. “Faith, Reason, and Justice is who we are,” explained Dr. Modica. In his view, the changes to academics, residence life, and marketing were evidence that Eastern University is “not changing, but building bridges… …not reinventing, but rethinking its approach.” He referred to our identity as a Christian school as our “anchor.” Dr. Modica explained that “while there is always a tension between identity and remaining relevant, students come here to learn and faculty to serve because of our identity.” “Eastern is committed to its robust Christian tradition, and remains committed to shaping students in Faith, Reason, and Justice.”

      To talk about several branding changes such as the switch from “wake up the world” to “courage,” I interviewed Dr. Michael Thomas, our new chief marketing officer. When asked what he thought EU’s identity was, Dr. Thomas explained that Eastern University is “more than just job training or getting a degree.” “The world is in desperate need for people to be courageous to stand up for things,” namely, Faith, Reason, and Justice. He stated that Eastern is “a place where we shape people of courage to live lives centered on Faith, Reason, and Justice.” Dr. Thomas talked about the need to adapt our programs, but that we don’t need to sacrifice our identity to do so. Citing the Faith on the Field event, he explained how more active marketing strategies will only serve to enhance our values and expose more people to what we’re about. “You go to many parts of Philly and people don’t know about Eastern. It is time for that to change,” he said in closing.

     There is always the fear that as we adapt to an ever-changing environment, we might be losing a piece of who we are. While that feeling never goes away, I am much more optimistic about the direction we’re headed after talking with a few of the people who have been doing everything they can to care for and grow this university.

     Sources: CNN

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