Life, Death, Meaning and Service - Hobart and William Smith Colleges
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Krummel Seneca Lake Terrace 1

Life, Death, Meaning and Service

For 10 weeks last fall, students in Associate Professor of Religious Studies John Krummel’s “Death and Dying” course drove to Seneca Lake Terrace, a nearby assisted living facility, to meet with residents and hear their life stories.

“Ten hours doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but when you spend the majority of that time just talking, you really can get to know someone well,” says Meghan Cloutier ’19.

As they visited their assigned residents, students kept daily journals and addressed reflective questions, examining their service-learning experience at Seneca Lake Terrace in the context of course readings. Krummel explains that during the first half of the course, those readings focused on “after-life beliefs, attitudes/approaches toward death and life, and rituals relating to death in ancient Greek philosophy, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. During the second half of the course we look at death/dying from a secular perspective: the psychological stages of dying, how dying affects surviving loved ones, bereavement, denial and acceptance of death/mortality, and so on.”

Krummel, who began teaching “Death and Dying” at Temple University through the early to mid-2000s, says that “after I came to HWS in 2008 I added the service-learning component, and it appears that many students today register for the class for that reason.”

Philosophy major Jackson Lesure ’21 notes that spending time with his assigned resident at Seneca Lake Terrace “was something that I learned to appreciate more with every visit…We talked a lot in class about how, today, we tend to marginalize death. That is, we push it to the bounds of our life telling ourselves that we are immune to it and cannot be harmed by it…And while this experience did not leave me with the golden ticket to conquer the fear of death, I managed to learn two very important values my resident lived by…go with the flow, and don’t worry about things that cannot be changed.”

Paired with the semester-long exploration of the ways the world understands and approaches death and the meaning of life, the service-learning component of the course offered a valuable “firsthand perspective on how people cope with dying and their trials at coming to terms with this reality,” says Craig “CJ” Tattan ’19, a computer science major, with a religious studies and entrepreneurial studies double-minor. “The course…exposed me to a plethora of philosophical concepts such as ontological interdependence and…covered afterlife beliefs of [both] Eastern and Western religious systems.”

For Cloutier, a biochemistry major and health professions minor who was recently accepted to Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University of Buffalo, “classes like this one, as well as the hospital internship [that] I participated in during my sophomore fall…as part of the Health Professions minor, are really unique opportunities that give you necessary experiences talking to people who are in some sort of vulnerable position.”

“What I found most interesting during my time at the facility was the optimism that all the residents shared and their unique ability to live in the moment as opposed to dwelling on the future,” says Tattan, who notes that the “Death and Dying” course proved to be “an enlightening class whose service-learning component was crucial to understanding and absorbing the material.”

For the second year in a row, Hobart and William Smith Colleges are ranked as the top liberal arts institution for service in Washington Monthly’s 2018 College Guide and Rankings. Since 2005, the policy magazine has rated U.S. colleges and universities based on their contributions to society, taking into consideration social mobility, research and service.

HWS students volunteer more than 90,000 hours annually in local, national and international communities, and generate more than $110,000 in fundraising efforts for non-profit organizations.

The photo above features Jacob “Jake” Catalioto ’20 during a visit with a resident of Seneca Lake Terrace. 

For 10 weeks last fall, students in Associate Professor of Religious Studies John Krummel’s “Death and Dying” course drove to Seneca Lake Terrace, a nearby assisted living facility, to meet…

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