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Creating Community Over Coffee

Creating a sense of belonging and community is a perennial challenge for nonresidential institutions. Particularly in the community college setting, students often balance multiple priorities, including parenthood and employment, in addition to coursework. Trips to campus are often perfunctory, focused, and as brief as possible. Social connections outside of the classroom may be limited.

In the fall of 2002, the Library and Student Services divisions at Davidson County Community College collaborated on an idea to bring students, faculty, and staff together for food, fun, and a bit of culture over coffee each Friday morning. Since then, Friday Coffee Hour, as it is called, has become an enriching and much enjoyed campus community builder.

How It Began

The original idea for Coffee Hour was born of a joke related to the completion of a much-needed renovation of the campus Learning Resource Center. After the décor was updated from the institutional orange of the 1970s to a more modern and inviting bookstore look, students and faculty alike would quip that all that was lacking was the cappuccino machine. Library staff would politely laugh while muttering something about having no intention of scrubbing out a cappuccino machine everyday.

In truth, maintaining a cappuccino machine without additional staffing would have been burdensome and distracting to primary library services. However, when the important question was asked, “What can be done, given existing resources?” an interesting answer emerged; although serving coffee all day every day was too much, offering coffee for an hour or so once a week was manageable. In practice, hosting Coffee Hour created the desired cool coffeehouse atmosphere, but in a focused way that does not overshadow the ultimate mission of the library.

Collaboration and Communication

While the idea was born in the library, it was supported attracted attention of others across campus. When Library Services sounded the idea with Student Services, they embraced the idea, offering additional financial support and manpower. The coordinator for campus cultural events joined in to offer entertainment every other week.

Having the library as a possible venue simplified the scheduling and marketing of certain types of campus cultural events and provided the ideal intimate space for smaller musical performances, discussion forums, and art demonstrations. A student, hearing of the proposed initiative, volunteered his skills as a caterer to bake pastries and other small confectionary treats. A member of the business office had a connection in the furniture industry that led to the at-cost purchase of stylish wood and wrought-iron pub tables and chairs. Building clusters of pub tables defined the area where performances would be held and completed the desired coffeehouse atmosphere.

A simple marketing plan was developed to build interest and keep the campus community informed. The logo, a steaming coffee cup, and slogan, Culture is on the Menu, were created, and signs were posted across campus. Notices were included in the campus student and faculty newsletters and on the campus events calendar, aptly named the Toilet Paper, which is posted on the back of every restroom stall door. Eventually, special flyers featuring the artist of the week were also circulated around campus, along with Friday morning email teasers.

The response to the fall 2002 launch of Coffee Hour was resoundingly positive; everyone loved it! Members of the campus community who had not darkened the library doors in years rediscovered the library, their colleagues, and their students.

A Typical Coffee Hour

Steaming coffee, bluesy jazz, good books, great conversation, relaxed laughter could well describe a typical Friday Coffee Hour. Over the past year and a half, Coffee Hour has become an accepted and expected part of the campus culture. Many students show up early to get a good seat and are disappointed when Coffee Hour is suspended over student breaks or holidays. Faculty and staff comment that beyond the nice break and free coffee, they enjoy making connections with others outside of their normal work groups. Students are able to see faculty members in a new light, outside of the classroom, interacting with each other and with other students.

Class groups have visited Coffee Hour together as a basis for writing assignments, to hear authors talk about their craft, to see art demonstrations, or to listen to different types of music. Interesting and talked about performances have included a didgeridoo craftsman and player who demonstrated the musical and medicinal properties of his carefully shaped instruments; a student potter who shaped pottery on his wheel while talking with a fascinated crowd; and a local television news anchor turned author, who enchanted the audience with readings from his potent new mystery, then encouraged all to seek their inner voices as writers and to seek out their dreams as individuals.

Lessons Learned

Reflection about the college's experience with this community-building initiative evoked several lessons learned:

  • Figure out what can be done. Seeking out what can be done within the existing confines, using whatever resources are available, is essential. It is amazing how many reasons there can be about why something can't be done. However, focusing on what cannot be done only assures that nothing will ever be done.
  • Involve everyone. Collaboration nurtures success. The resulting synergy is well worth the extra time it takes to plan with others.
  • Include everyone. Projects to build campus community should include students, faculty, staff, and anyone else considered part of the community.

Frequently Asked Questions

Don't students mind the noise?

No. Fortunately, the library's two-story structure offers a variety of functional spaces, including quiet zones. Moreover, because the schedule is the same from week to week, students know when the library might be less hushed than usual.

Is hosting Coffee Hour costly?

Costs have averaged $600 per semester, excluding entertainment. This is not at all expensive for serving 220 cups of hot beverage per week and pastries and fruit every other week. Supplies are purchased in bulk for ease and economy.

Who pays for Coffee Hour?

The majority of costs are split among library fines, student activity fees, and local funds, but members of the campus community also contribute special blends of coffee or tea – and sometimes money – to support Coffee Hour.

For more information, contact

Crystal Baird
Interim Chairperson, Student Services
Davidson County Community College
Lexington, North Carolina
(336) 249-8186, ext. 283

 

 
 

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