'Compassion gets to where it hurts' | Local News

At the front of a room in RCTC's Coffman Center, Jacob Buchl checked his guitar's strings while Ryan Louprasong introduced their art showcase.

Buchl played a song he wrote titled "Reaching," while Ryan Louprasong performed an urban hip-hop dance routine.

During his last years in high school, Buchl sustained several brain injuries from athletics. Buchl, now 21, opened up about that experience about six weeks ago in RCTC's intercultural communication class.

He played the song for the class then, and Louprasong, a dancer, responded to the emotion in the song and approached him about the full story after class.

"It was more of a listening experience for him," Buchl said. "It was therapy for me."

Since high school Buchl had practiced sharing his story with people — moving from doctors to friends, to family and, eventually, to classmates. But the classroom "safe space" and focus on listening primed him for future interactions.

"It kind of cracked open the egg," he said.

With work, the students and faculty at Wednesday's brown bag lunch hope to make the entire campus a safe place to open up.

RCTC's Compassion Work Team hopes to make the college into a Charter for Compassion campus, intercultural communication instructor Lori Halverson-Wente said. She and RCTC instructor Steve Juenemann have volunteered to teach compassion to students by integrating it into the common core classes.

Becoming a Charter campus is more than a verbal promise to advocate for kindness, Juenemann, who teaches a course called "Compassionate Studies," said. Not many colleges work with the Charter for Compassion, though — it will require significant planning to change the curriculum.

He thinks it's worth it.

"It engenders trust — a sense of commitment, security," Juenemann said. "Compassion gets to where it hurts, and it takes courage and a 'strong back' to do that."

The conversation turned to services for students in need with the RCTC Student Senate.

Student treasurer Hazel Thorp spoke about the need to raise awareness and services for food-insecure students.

"At times, college students are either skipping or missing meals, and feel insecure about either not having the time or money, and are not comfortable with being able to say that they are struggling," Thorp said. "It's important for us to be able to look at food insecurity and zone in on where we can help people find more resources, and bring awareness of what is happening, so that there can be more focus on long term goals."

The 'starving college student' is an old cliche, but it becomes less funny when considered in the context of food insecurity.

RCTC doesn't know how many of its students are food insecure — meaning that they don't have money to buy nutritious enough food — or enough food in general.

However, a Boynton Food Service survey at Minnesota campuses indicated that between 15 and 20 percent of students at RCTC had run out of food without money to get more within the last 12 months.

"There is some level of food insecurity at every campus," Thorp said.

Currently the Student Senate provides emergency food aid to students on campus. $20,000 was allocated this year in total. $10,000 is going to a food supply, used by about 50 students each week, Thorp said. Another $5,000 pays for hot meals provided outside the learning center, and the final $5,000 provides food and snacks at events and club open houses, where students may also go in search of food.

Ideally, the food aid will be followed by a meal plan, creating dorms on campus, and more options for affordable childcare, said Carter McKenzie, student body vice president.

It all goes back to Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, he said: until students have food, secure housing and childcare, they can't fully focus on education.

"We won't create a ripple that disappears into the ocean," McKenzie said. "We want to create a wave."

Several attendees — including Buchl, Louprasong and Thorp — received certificates from the intercultural communication class commemorating their work to increase compassion on campus.

"I think that (compassion) means the idea that we can come together as a community and a campus, to create a better environment, and focus on understanding one another," Thorp said. "To be able to provide a proper response of kindness when we see suffering. Overall, it would mean being more thankful and willing to give more to those who need it."