The Blog @
Southern Virginia University
  1. Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr.

    January 16, 2017


    Today, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by striving to remember the man, as well as the cause to which he dedicated his life. As tribute to the Reverend King, we wanted to share just a few of the powerful messages from his book, “Strength to Love,” his Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, and his Christmas Sermon on Peace. One thing becomes clear while reading or listening to Dr. King’s words — his message of equality, love, and peace, resonates as strongly today as it did a half century ago.

    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Strength to Love, 1963

    “Jesus is eternally right. History is replete with the bleached bones of nations that refused to listen to him. May we in this century hear and follow his words. May we realize that we shall never be true sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father until we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.” – Strength to Love, 1963

    “…nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time — the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts.” – Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964

    “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” – Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964 

    “I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. ‘And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together … none shall be afraid.’ I still believe that We Shall overcome!”­ ­– Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, 1964

    “We have experimented with the meaning of nonviolence in our struggle for racial justice in the United States. But now, the time has come for man to experiment with nonviolence in all areas in human conflict.” – Christmas Sermon on Peace, 1967

    (Post by Chris Pendleton ’08.)

  2. Behind the Scenes: The Ones Who Make the Limelight

    November 28, 2016

    AK5A7815 (1)

    As Southern Virginia University students file out Chandler after another spectacular theater production, it is possible that most of the audience may have missed a significant part of the show. While there are the actors in the limelight that capture our attention with dedicated performances, at the end of the day there are also those who make the limelight and often go unrecognized as part of the backstage crew.  

    For Southern Virginia’s production of Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias”, stage manager Aubrie Bouchard is one of many backstage who has sacrificed hours on end to make sure the production was as perfect as it could be.

    Bouchard comments on how as stage manager, she is in charge of all technical aspects of the show. “[The stage manager] is at the head,” Bouchard says. “They have all of these different managers; so there are props managers, costume managers, lights designers, sound people, and they are all in charge of their specific areas, but the stage manager oversees all of that and makes sure everything gets done that needs to get done.”

    Bouchard goes on to describe the process of going along in the script and ensuring that all cues are met and seamlessly correspond with the performance of the actors. Every person contributing to the show is an essential part and all deserve recognition for their hard work.

    “Think of a production and everything that goes into it,” Bouchard suggests. “You’ve got your costumes, your light cues, your sound cues, your props, and if all of that stuff just disappeared, then a lot of that realness of theater would disappear as well.”

    A theatre scene such as the hair salon in Steel Magnolias is more complicated to create than one might initially think, and even though the set remains unchanged throughout the entire performance, there is still just as much to consider when setting the stage for a successful show.

    Having spent most of her theater career on the stage as an actor herself, Bouchard reflects on what this change of perspective working backstage has taught her. “I have been humbled,” she says, “because every aspect of theater is critical, and every aspect of theater can teach you what theater has to offer … So i’m really grateful that i’ve been able to see first hand how much work it takes for those shows.”

    Bouchard, undoubtedly along with the others who worked to create the show both on the stage and off, feels that the ultimate payoff for all their hard work is the show’s opening night. “The actors did an amazing job, all the props happened, all the light cues … From my view in the sound booth, I could see people crying and laughing and to see that finally everything had come together, even though it wasn’t perfect, it still was something that brought joy to people, and getting to see that was so unbelievably satisfying.”

    (Post by Whitney John’19)

  3. Loving the Constitution

    September 19, 2016

    The following is a post by Dr. Jeremiah John, associate professor of politics and interim associate provost, to commemorate the United States Constitution on Constitution Day.


    One of my favorite aphorists — Heraclitus — said, “The people should fight for their law, as they do for their city wall.” I agree, but I would add that fighting for our law is a more complicated matter — and not an easier one — than fighting for our city wall. This is even truer for Americans, and their most basic, oldest “wall” of all: the U.S. Constitution.

    Americans love the Constitution. That’s how it seems, anyway, listening to politicians, opinion columnists and activists of various persuasions. The cry of “Defend the Constitution!”— from the left and from the right — is often heard, while the cry of “Reform the Constitution!”or “A new Constitution!” is more rarely heard. A 2007 Rasmussen Report poll reported that 63 percent of Americans rate the U.S. Constitution “great” or “good,” even while dissatisfaction with “the political system in Washington” has more recently risen to over 80 percent.

    But if the Constitution is loved, it does not seem to be well-known. Whenever some call us to rally around it, others are quick to observe that Americans aren’t very familiar with it. Civic literacy surveys regularly report on the dismal state of knowledge of the Constitution. For example, the Annenberg Public Policy Center conducted a poll in 2013 which showed that only 36 percent of Americans could name all three branches of government, and over half get it confused with the Declaration of Independence. If we admire the Constitution, perhaps we do so from a distance. To capture the style of our dedication, the satirical newspaper The Onion told of an “area man” who is a “passionate defender of what he imagines the Constitution to be.”

    But what does it really mean to love and defend the Constitution? Does it mean that someone agrees with and endorses all its provisions? For example, was the Constitution worthy of love in 1787 when it included protections for slavery? Was it worthy of love after the Civil War Amendments — which guaranteed, among other things, “equal protection of the laws”— but before the 19th, which prohibited discrimination in voting rights based on sex? Are there some essential elements we can support with enthusiasm, discounting, for example, its number of strange rules for picking the president?

    Do we love the Constitution less, the more we are willing to change it? My home state of Virginia has had, by my count, 6 different constitutions. The 1902 Constitution, which lasted longer than any other in Virginia history, was written in order to disenfranchise African-Americans and to entrench racial segregation in the state. That constitution was superseded by the current one, which was itself drafted before I was born, in 1971. But the Virginia Constitution of 1902, I will easily admit, I do not love.

    As for the U.S. Constitution, it has many things I find to be wise: its distinct kind of federalism, its design of Congress as a true legislating body — not merely a parliament — and its provisions for judicial independence. Other parts seem wise to me but have been abolished, or diverted from their original purpose over time, such as the appointment of Senators by state legislatures, or the war power of Congress. And in other places, by omission or error, I think the U.S. Constitution is wrong. While many state constitutions are too easy to change, the federal Constitution is too hard to change. And I’d say the Mexican Constitution, in its single six-year term for presidents, or the German Constitution, in its special protections for marriage and family — to give two examples — get it right where our Constitution gets it wrong.

    But I don’t love those other constitutions in the way I love the United States Constitution. I don’t pledge “true faith and allegiance” to them, because, after all, I am an American citizen. This “true faith” does not spring from a well-considered judgment about what system is best, comparing what we have with all the others that are available. Good thing, too, as almost no citizen knows their own constitution, let alone all the others, well enough to make this kind of judgment. Rather, the Constitution deserves the allegiance of Americans first because it is the only possible focus on our patriotism. Only through it did the United States as a political community come into being. Without it, it may yet cease to exist. The Constitution is, for Americans, our “koinon,” as the ancient Greeks put it: our common thing, the thing all citizens share in. If we also love the land and people of the United States along with its traditions and culture, its institutions and achievements, we must, by extension, love the Constitution of the United States. But love is compatible with correction, even major reform. Allegiance is compatible with criticism if it is measured. Like sailors who are repairing the boat they are currently floating in, we will have to adopt the care of people who appreciate what is keeping their heads above water.

    So in one way, I like the attitude of the man who is a “passionate defender of what he imagines the Constitution to be.” He knows on a deep level that he has something valuable, even if he wouldn’t know what to do with it, and is unaware of its limitations. Perhaps he could be spurred by his passion to learn more. Perhaps he has ideas for his Constitution, and perhaps those ideas could themselves be perfected into a proposal for improvement. But as with the man fighting for his city wall, ignorant enthusiasm in defense of the Constitution is not likely to succeed.  As Lincoln put it in a speech early in his career, defense of the Constitution must be, in the first place a “political religion,” a “state of feeling” taught to the “lisping babe” on the mother’s lap. But it must also make use of “cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason,” the kind that dispels partisan illusions, like the one that tells us that the Constitution guarantees all our favorite policies, or prohibits all the ones we dislike. In short, our allegiance to the Constitution should, I believe, be both warm and wise. It should be affectionate enough to feel that the Constitution is essential to American political identity, but smart enough to see it clearly for what it is, from its flaws to its profound genius and enduring worth.

    (Post by Dr. Jeremiah John, Associate Professor of Politics and Interim Associate Provost)

  4. The Constitution, Madison & Montpelier

    September 16, 2016

    James Madison by Gilbert Stuart

    This past semester I took a course called “The Legal and Intellectual History of the Constitution.” This course was engaging and powerful, and I learned not only about the Constitution as a document of history, but also about its absolute relevance in today’s political climate. Conversations in this course about constitutional interpretations and how those interpretations should be implemented in modern America were often fierce, and more than once — as should happen in a great course — my confidence in my own ideas slipped away long enough for me to appreciate, learn from, and even adopt some of the clever points of view of my classmates.

    I also gained a greater respect and admiration for the sacrifice and scholarship of America’s Founding Fathers (especially James Madison), who, in my mind, serve as history’s high points in political thought. Learning about these men and their lives inspired my own opinions and beliefs, and I often found myself, when deciding my position on an in-class conversation about the constitutionality of modern laws surrounding religious freedom, gay marriage, healthcare, or economic regulation, asking the question, “What would James Madison think about this?”

    As fantastic as the course was, however, the class meetings and conversations themselves were only one part — and perhaps even a lesser part — of the influence this course had in my life and education. What really moved the course to the forefront of my academic experience here at Southern Virginia were the extracurricular opportunities I had the privilege of participating in.

    One of those opportunities was to join an optional field trip to James Madison’s home at Montpelier (thanks to Professor Rachel Wilcox for organizing such an amazing event), only a short drive from Southern Virginia. While there, our class toured the very room in which Madison wrote the Virginia Plan, the document that served as the basis for the heated debates around congressional representation, among other things. In the classroom we often discussed the Virginia Plan at length, and even put on an imitative Constitutional Convention. We debated the same issues the Founding Fathers had, and argued over the achievements and shortcomings of Madison’s Virginia Plan. But I feel comfortable in saying that no one in the class truly understood the Virginia Plan’s importance or brilliance until we were able to put ourselves in the atmosphere of Madison’s home.


    Another opportunity, after the semester was over, and this time just with my family, was to see the Constitution in the National Archives in Washington D.C. Because of my course with Professor Wilcox, I had analyzed the Constitution, debated over its place in modern society, written papers about my interpretations of certain sections of it — but I hardly realized its gravity and import until I took advantage of the opportunity to see it, a deceptively simple piece of parchment by looks, but by content one of the world’s most profound documents.

    Charters of Freedom Hall, National Archives, Washington

    Both of these trips, only short distances away from Southern Virginia, allowed me to to turn abstract education into tangible life experience. The classroom knowledge I received from Professor Wilcox, as is usual at our university, was incredible — coupled with the ability to enrich my studies through access to some of the amazing opportunities located near our university, it was life-changing.

    (Post by Braxton Boyer ’16. Photos courtesy of Philippa Hawker ’16 and Library of Congress.)

  5. Why Dress Nice at Southern Virginia: An Open Letter to First Year Students

    August 30, 2016

    Dear First-Year Student,

    In the following weeks and perhaps months, you’re going to hear many messages about the dress and grooming standards at Southern Virginia University. If you just groaned in anticipation of that prospect, I understand. Most likely, you grew up in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, during which time your adult leaders regularly talked to you about the importance of dressing modestly. Given such a background, you might feel like we here at Southern Virginia are just doing more of the same—giving you that same message you’ve heard countless times before.

    That’s not what we’re doing.


    Don’t get me wrong: we think that modesty is important. We value modesty. But we want to build on that message about your dress and grooming standards. To the modesty standard of your church upbringing we want to add a certain level of professionalism.  A professional standard. Not modest vs. immodest. Rather, formal vs. casual. Or perhaps, appropriate for the occasion vs. inappropriate for the occasion.   As a professor here at Southern Virginia, I really want you to understand this new standard. I want you to buy into it. Make it a part of who you are. Live it. If you do, it will make a difference for you, for your peers in the classroom we share, and for the Southern Virginia community as a whole.

    So let me share with you why dressing nice for class is a good idea. But before I do, I need to share two very basic ideas.

    Early in my high school career, the other kids started dressing in odd ways. Goth became a thing, along with Disco and other dress codes I’ve worked hard to forget. So all these kids started dressing differently, and they all gave the same reason.   “I’m just expressing who I am.”  In their minds, they were expressing their individuality by being different from the crowd. They were not sheep like the rest of us. They were individuals. They were unique.

    But developmental psychologists know better. They have shown that adolescents use dress to express their identity not by being different but by signaling their affiliation with (or desire to be affiliated with) a particular social group. For example, at my high school, I could tell who the jocks were by the clothes they wore—just like I could tell the preppies, the stoners, the surfers, the low-riders, and other groups. It wasn’t rocket science. Each group had their own dress code.   I’m guessing it was the same at your high school, right?  Consequently, scientific studies of the relationship between clothes and identity suggest that we dress to identify with a particular social group. Anyone who tells you different is probably still working out his or her identity issues—which is OK.

    Putting this into perspective, the Southern Virginia community is a social group with a particular dress code. You came here on purpose—knowing about that dress code. You electronically signed a document indicating that you were OK with our dress and grooming standards. And I trust you will hold to these standards with vigor. This doesn’t make you any less an individual. You’re not following the crowd. You’re not a mindless zombie. Instead, you’re someone who has intentionally chosen to adopt the identity of a Southern Virginia Knight, in the same way that you’ve chosen to be a Mormon, a Catholic, a soccer player, a thespian, a Marvel movies fanboy or whatever else makes you you.  To be a Knight and adopt the dress and grooming standards doesn’t mean you can’t be all those other things. We don’t want to take anything away from who you are, we want to add to who you are.


    The second basic idea: the Southern Virginia dress and grooming standard includes the idea that context determines what is appropriate. So if you’re participating in 6:00 a.m. soccer practice, warmups would be appropriate clothing. No one is suggesting that you wear a button down dress shirt or blouse to play soccer. We all dress differently for different occasions: church, school, athletic competitions, dates, job interviews…. A typical wardrobe includes items specific to many different dress codes.  Putting this fact in context, the Southern Virginia standard isn’t, strictly speaking, one dress code as much as it is the idea that your dress is appropriate to the context and associated dress code (i.e. warm ups for soccer practice, nicer clothes for class).

    Now, why dress nice for class?  In a nutshell, what you wear affects you and the people around you in important ways. For example, cognitive psychologists have discovered that some cognitive processes are causally influenced by features of the physical body—including the clothes we wear. In one experiment[i], researchers had participants wear a white coat. Some participants were told the coat belonged to a doctor, while others were told the coat belonged to a painter. The participants were then given a tests of attention. Participants who thought they were wearing a doctor’s coat performed significantly better on the tests—they were better able to focus and maintain attention without being distracted by spurious details—compared to those who thought they were wearing a painter’s coat. In the study, wearing the coat seemed to be important. Simply seeing the coat hanging on the wall nearby didn’t impact that result. Weird, huh?

    There are many more studies addressing the way in which clothes affect us, and I’d love to share all the details of those studies—because I’m obsessed with social science research—but you’d probably get bored, so let me just cut to the chase. The more formal you dress, the more perceived social distance you create between yourself and others[ii]. Remember how I said we’re striving for a professional standard?  Well, such a standard necessarily involves a certain degree of social distance. But with that social distance comes: increased attention (the white lab coat study), an increased propensity to process information abstractly instead of concretely (which has implications for critical thinking and learning)[iii], and a greater perception of yourself as competent, productive, trustworthy, and authoritative[iv]. Alternatively, dressing more casually creates less social distance which has been associated with less attention, an increased propensity to process information in concrete terms, and a decreased perception of yourself as competent, productive, trustworthy, and authoritative. There’s more research documenting the connection between clothes and learning (i.e. students learn more and behave better when graduate student instructors dress more formally[v]), but you get the idea.


    The big picture: good things will happen as you dress and groom yourself just a little more professionally in the classroom this semester. You’ll have more confidence, you’ll be able to focus better, and you’ll favor an abstract cognitive processing style which will predispose you to critical thinking.

    You don’t have to dress for a job interview every day. But “dressing for class” is a thing. Or at least it should be. And it should mean more to you than rolling out of bed and coming to class in the sweats you slept in. A little effort is all it takes. Modest. Clean. No extremes in style. Appropriate for the occasion. By small and simple things, great things are brought to pass, right?  And as the research shows, a little more effort beyond the minimum standard will lead to even greater gains.

    I hope you can understand and accept the invitation we’re offering here at Southern Virginia. We’re not simply restating the moral standards of your adolescence. We’re hoping to draw you into a more professional standard of dress and grooming that will enhance your classroom experience and prepare you for future work in professional settings. Here at Southern Virginia, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to continue your practice of casual dress in many appropriate settings, but don’t miss out on this new opportunity to expand your collegiate and professional identity via the adoption of a more professional dress and grooming standard.

    Dr. Rodriguez
    Associate Professor of Family and Child Development

    [i] Adam, H., & Galinsky, A. D. (2012). Enclothed cognition. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48, 918–925.

    [ii] Michael L. Slepian, Simon N. Ferber, Joshua M. Gold, and Abraham M. Rutchick (2015) The cognitive consequences of formal clothing, Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6(6) 661-668.

    [iii] Ibid

    [iv] Peluchette, J. V. E., & Karl, K. (2007). The impact of workplace attire on employee self-perceptions. Human Resource Development Quarterly, 18, 345–360.

    [v] Roach, K. D. (1997). Effects of graduate teaching assistant attire on student learning, misbehaviors, and ratings of instruction, Communication Quarterly, 45,(3), 125-141