December 05, 2023 | Matt Kucinski

A group of 12 students wearing light blue T-shirts pose together for a selfie photo.
Members of the Common Good Collective and the Sustainability Fellows Cohort take a photo together while serving and learning in Grand Rapids.

“I’ve never been where the discussion of the middle-ground was,” said Claire Pacer, a first-year student from Wheaton, Illinois.

Where Pacer grew up, she says, “it was a lot of black and white, here’s what’s good, here’s what’s bad.”

It left her wanting for more. In many ways, Pacer sought the freedom to ponder.

“I’ve always wanted to understand why people do the things they do, why people react the ways they do. I’m an observer of people.”

On a quest

This quest to learn more about people’s behavior is a reason why when Pacer was finishing up at Wheaton North Public High School, she was drawn toward pursuing psychology.

“I was looking for a good psych program and also interested in study abroad,” said Pacer of her college search criteria. “And then I talked to one of my family friends whose son was at Calvin at the time. We had a really big conversation and talked about the turning of Roe vs. Wade, we talked about the Christian perspective and how complicated of an issue this is,” said Pacer.

It was following that discussion that Pacer’s conversation partner recommended Calvin. “He said I think you’d really like Calvin. It’s a place where they try and open these conversations and where they take a Christian perspective on all these issues.”

Pacer left that conversation feeling fulfilled and wanting to wrestle with big issues in a Christ-centered community. So, she zeroed in on Calvin University.

Discovering a path, finding community

“I came and visited a classroom and the class I was visiting was about the integration of faith and psychology. That was a gift from God, to put me there in that classroom at that time,” said Pacer. “That experience showed me that this is a place where you can study what you want to study through your Christian perspective.”

For Pacer, who is considering pursuing a career as a therapist or counselor, this integration seemed essential.

A female student sits on a bench and smiles.
Claire Pacer is in her first year at Calvin University.

“Because man is made in God’s image, the more we learn about man and about how God created us and the more we get to know Jesus and understand who He is, the more we can live like Him, which is what we are called to do as Christians,” said Pacer. “And the more we learn about people the easier it is to love them and treat them with respect and that’s just something I constantly want to be preaching.”

Diverse perspectives, a common mission

While Pacer decided Calvin was just the place for her to nurture her love for God and for people, she was able to dive deeper into that space through the Common Good Collective—a new cohort at Calvin where students passionate about concerns of justice and loving one’s neighbor come together to consider questions like: what is the common good? and how can people who disagree work together to promote it?

“Seeking the Common Good is this idea that we create places where everybody is allowed to participate, where flourishing is nurtured for everyone,” said Mark Mulder, professor of sociology and advisor of the Common Good Collective.

The Collective, which launched this fall, includes 15-20 first-year students who are committed to developing as leaders grounded in the Christian commitments to love God and neighbor. The students come from a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and disciplines, but they share one common mission.

“We are all passionate about the Common Good and we all have perspectives about how that comes about,” said Pacer. “It’s valuable to hear those perspectives. Even though the person I’m talking to I may disagree with, I know they are extremely passionate about the same things that I am, we just have different ways of going about things.”

“Our goal through this collective is to help students be attentive of how they can participate in renewal and restoration, that their liberal arts education at Calvin will bring to bear to some kind of agency for a need that exists that they can see,” said Mulder.

A vibrant learning environment

Mulder adds the diversity of backgrounds of students, including their disciplinary pursuits, represented in the cohort, makes it a vibrant learning environment.

A few canoes with two people in each floating down a river.
Earlier this fall, the Common Good Collective got a different view of downtown Grand Rapids when they canoed into the city via the Grand River.

“As part of the Core 100 class that this cohort takes together, we went to the greater Grand Rapids area and asked questions like: ‘What is a sociologist going to notice here? How about a businessperson? What does an engineer notice on this street?’ said Mulder. “We are emphasizing that these different perspectives help us better understand the place in Grand Rapids that we are visiting and observing. I hope that translates back to the students, this idea that all the different perspectives and backgrounds they bring to this cohort matter. We need to be able to listen well.”

This is what Pacer was craving since high school—the ability to deepen and sharpen her own perspectives by listening well to others.

“I love to have a stance [on an issue] and have it develop further as I learn about it,” said Pacer. “Some of the people in my cohort would not be people I would have naturally talked to if I wasn’t in this cohort, but now they are some of my best friends and I love to spend time with them. I think it’s important to put yourself in a position where you aren’t going to be with people who always agree with you, and the cohort is a good place where that happens.”

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