Inside the Gate
  Presidential Inauguration; Commencement Stats;
Penrose Scholars, Then and Now; SoN gets Magnet; Outdoors goes (far) East; Forward Thinking
Blissed Out
A Tradition of Transition
Speaking Out
The Meaning of West Hall
Scrapbook Memories
Alumni Profile
Alumni Happenings
Class Notes
AUB Reflections
In Memoriam
MainGate Connections
From the President
From the Editors
Letters to the Editors

Forward Thinking

Last Glance: The AUB Mace

Honorary Doctorate Ceremony 2009

Time Flies

Beirutis Set One Fine Table

Inaugurating the Diya Mutasim Dermatology Library
Incoming:  Welcome to new VP and FM Dean Dr. Mohamed H. Sayegh and FAS Dean Patrick McGreevy.

Summer 2009 Vol. VII, No. 4

The Meaning of West Hall

The Civic Welfare League has been helping the disadvantaged since 1924, just one of many AUB student groups proving that community service is at the heart of the AUB experience.

The outbreak of the Lebanese civil war in 1975 effectively stifled student protest for many years to come. Following the gradual return to normalcy in the country and on campus from 1990, student activism turned increasingly to peaceful marches and sit-ins and more constructive acts of community service and volunteerism. The tradition of community service emphasized using one’s education not for oneself alone but for the improvement of society as a whole. In the 1880s first president Daniel Bliss reminded the SPC students that they came to the college to “become stronger and better able to help and bless mankind.” Almost every president thereafter has reiterated this principle.

Members of the university have been volunteering ever since the early medical school faculty members and students began a long history of sharing expertise with the broader community outside its walls. Doctors and medical students offered medical care in poor neighborhoods of Beirut; they later devoted time to hospitals such as the Asfurieh Mental Health Hospital and the tuberculosis society in Shebanieh.

Recent examples of the continuing tradition of volunteering are the Outreach Clinic (see MG, vol. II, no. 2, Pp. 18-22), Through which AUB doctors, medical students, and staff bring weekly health care to underserved refugees in the Shatila Camp, and the Task Force for Reconstruction and Community Service (TFRCS) established by President Waterbury during the summer of 2006 in the aftermath of the Israeli attack. Jump-started by the need for post-war reconstruction, the TFRCS now focuses on raising the “awareness of public service as a core value for the entire university community.” In May 2007 at the end of an NGO Social Day on campus, more than 500 students had signed up as volunteers to work with NGOs.

Recently, the university farm in the Beka’a, AREC, the Agricultural Research and Education Center, long involved in sharing agricultural practices with neighboring farmers and villagers, decided to renew its commitment through a new reading of the acronym, AREC: advancing research, enabling communities.

In his 2007 opening ceremony address entitled “Going Outside AUB’s Walls,” President John Waterbury urged AUB to take “a more active role in the cultural, economic, and intellectual development of Ras Beirut” and described the Neighborhood Initiative. This project, under the leadership of anthropologist and urban architect Cynthia Myntti, is working to “find out what AUB can and should do to bring about positive changes in its neighborhood.”

Closely related is the Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) established in 2007 to “coordinate and develop the university’s activities and programs for community service, service learning, and community-based research” (Former Provost Peter Heath). CCECS Director Mounir Mabsout wants to make community service more visible in the University: the center will “institutionalize” community service in order to “instill the culture of community involvement in academia and in community-based research.”


The Palestinian Cultural Club, the Freedom Club, the Debate Club, the Human Rights and Peace Club, the Environmental Club, and the Agriculture and Landscape Society regularly participate in community service. Students organize Ramadan iftars for the elderly, athletic and game days on campus for orphans, clothing drives for the needy and victims of specific catastrophes. Following the 1996 Qana massacre and during the 2006 July war, students gathered clothing and household items for Qana residents and were among the first to help refugees find shelter.

Two longstanding student groups that remain strong today are the AUB Red Cross Club and the Civic Welfare League. The Civic Welfare League has been functioning as a student service group since 1924, seeking to improve the lives of the poor both in the city and in remote villages. Long anticipating the current aims of the CCECS, in 1936 the League worked out a “Plan for a Civic Course Laboratory for the Freshman Class.” Freshmen would “be required to put in ten hours,” providing “about a thousand hours for social service work.”

In the 1930s a brochure prepared by West Hall, the Athletics Department, and the Civic Welfare League, “A Message to the AUB Student on Preparing for Citizenship in his Country” said West Hall was not simply a building, but also “the symbol of character, co-operation and real manhood and citizenship. . . [Reflecting] the spiritual, the deeper meaning of the term.”

The CWL, fostered community service through the Village Welfare Service. Men and women students and teachers spent their summers in camps in various country districts. Each morning they went into the villages “to teach people to read, to dig latrines, to enjoy athletic sports, to care for their babies and homes in better ways, and, under the direction of trained specialists, show the fellahin how to improve their agricultural and hygienic conditions.” A corresponding City Welfare Service combined existing service organizations and offered volunteers the opportunity to deal with problems of city life: “to conduct a night school for about 100 working young men and boys, help in the work for homeless basket-boys [porters] in the city, conduct wholesome playground activities for street children, organize classes for mothers and girls, and develop other projects in hygiene, recreation, and education.”

For the past three summers the Civil Engineering Society has organized summer camps for students to bring their engineering skills to the aid of villages in the south. A mini-camp for six students was held in early summer 2009. Last April 16 the Red Cross Club sponsored an exceptional Awareness Day campaign in front of West Hall. Ambulance stretchers, bandaged students, wrecked cars, and “a seat belt convincer,” made vivid the consequences of reckless driving with grim authenticity. And in April and May members of the CWL resumed its traditional English Language courses on campus for AUB staff members and began teaching computer literacy in the south.

Community service—helping others, begun so long ago, remains today an enduring, constantly revitalized AUB tradition.

With thanks to Cynthia Myntti and the Jafet Library Archives.