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Saturday, May 28, 2022

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Bonner program relocates to Center for Civic Engagement

With the start of the new semester came a new home for the Bonner Scholars Program. After its students launched a letter-writing campaign last semester, the program moved from the Office of the Chaplaincy to the Center for Civic Engagement.

Junior Sarah Potter, one of the students appointed to speak on the Bonners' behalf, said that although a potential move had been discussed, it had been placed on a backburner and it was the students' actions after former program director Grace Holcomb's firing that moved the issue to the forefront.

"I would say that it was a direct result of what we did," Potter said. "We set up a lot of meetings with administrators in the wake of Grace being fired. As students, no one would really give us answers to any questions, so we had to fight really hard to get information."

Provost June Aprille, the senior administrator to whom the CCE reports, said that the move had been discussed before Holcomb's firing.

"I see this as a positive result that we've been thinking of for some time anyway, not to be related to anything negative that people perceive might have happened," she said. "I think the Bonner Scholars Program has been an important part of the institution for a long time. We've always thought that someday it might be a part of the Center for Civic Engagement. It was important to establish the Center for Civic Engagement on its own first, in my opinion, so that people didn't think of [it] as just the Bonner Scholars Center."

Junior Eric Van Der Hyde, also speaking on behalf of the BSP, said the scholars were excited for the opportunity to make the program what they wanted it to be.

"One thing that we really want to see happen is that the students in the program make the program what it is," he said. "Their voices will be heard."

Potter said that the transition would be arduous but that the Bonner Scholars were happy about the move.

"[The CCE] has the resources to make the program better, and they're willing to devote the time to it," Potter said. "They're definitely going to hire more people and we've been told that we're going to get to play a big role in the hiring process. They're excited about this. It's a good fit, and we have a good relationship already. We're also looking forward to bridging the gap between Bonners and non-Bonners. We want to make it a campus-wide thing instead of just a program. We think that by moving to the CCE we will be less isolated. The move just makes a lot of sense."

Acting Chaplain Kate O'Dwyer Randall, who assumed her current role after former Chaplain Daphne Burt resigned at the end of last semester, served as a program adviser last semester and said she was excited about the move and would continue to support the students.

"We are really excited for the Bonner program to be under the leadership of the CCE," she said. "It's a perfect fit. It is a place where it is going to be a hub of social justice and peer-engagement activity, and we support it 110 percent and encourage Bonner Scholars students to still come by and see us over here."

In an effort to make the change as smooth as possible for everyone involved, a Bonner Scholars Program Transition Team will work this semester to make the program a part of the CCE.

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Potter said that although it would take some time for the students and staff to acclimate to the change, they were looking forward to the new leadership.

The transition team consists of Amy Howard, associate director of the CCE; O'Dwyer Randall; Jennifer Landis-Santos and Camisha Jones, both of the Chaplaincy; senior Ethan McWilliams; juniors Erica Coleman and Allison DuVal; and Van Der Hyde and Potter.

Howard said in an e-mail interview that the committee would consider all facets of the program while making recommendations about how to structure the program in relation to the CCE.

"I expect that our committee will form subcommittees, and I look forward to bringing in other Bonner Scholars beyond the four elected to serve," she said. "While change can be challenging, the transition team is excited to work with students this semester as they serve the metro- Richmond community and continue strengthening the Bonner Scholars community on campus."

Aprille said that the transition would occur throughout this semester and that the planning would include making sure that there was adequate staffing so that the program could run smoothly. She said that she would help solve some of the logistical issues and would ultimately approve the final arrangements that the committee recommends.

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