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Sunday, August 2, 2020

Inside the St. Elizabeth’s University – Zack Wonder reporting

St. Elizabeth’s University is one of the seats of higher learning in Second Life (SL). Zack Wonder was invited to stroll the grounds with Tikinova Adonide (Tiki) who is the Senior Administrator at “St. E’s” as the University is often called. “Miss Elle Gedenspire and Miss Rae Summerisle founded St. Elizabeth’s five years ago,” she explained. “Elle is our media teacher and the president of the university and Rae contents herself building and running the sim. She makes things so pretty. As the Senior Admin, I run the daily operations. 

We have about 115 events each month, so I schedule and vet them all. I also do student admissions.” St. Elizabeth is a ladies’ college but has male staff as the Cardinal, renters, and lecturers. It is a role-play (RP) community for female avatars that look and play the part. “We make sure candidates look agreeable, and if someone has objectionable groups in the profiles, we will discuss that with them. For example, I would not have a student with curse words on her profile page, or a group about misogyny or racial supremacy. Students get a trial period before they get full status.” Admission requirements also state that the avatars applying must be over 60 days in age, and they should look 18 to 24 years of age. 

St. Elizabeth’s is tuition-free for the students. Donations are channeled to charitable causes such as the Harambee school  which has received 144,000 L$ so far.  “I also recruit staff,” Tiki continued. “Usually 1 or 2 people each week come to us asking to teach, so I have a process: they come to do some observations, they have an interview with me and submit a lesson plan. If I approve, they get a trial class.” She also told SL Enquirer that the staff is about a dozen strong, for the 45 to 50 active students at the University.

Tiki took Zack around, from the foyer to the classrooms, auditorium, and across the yard, to the Cathedral as well as the dance studio and the gym. Zack met a St. E’s student, Ailsa Stromfield, at the gym, for a brief interview.

SLE: What brought you to study here?

Ailsa: Well, to be honest, I discovered St. E’s by accident, but when I landed here was greeted warmly and never left. This was back in December [2019].

SLE: What made you so attached?

Ailsa: The staff and students are a great family, and there’s the bonus of real lessons too.

SLE: A sense of belonging?

Ailsa: Yep, a “belonging” is right. I have some great friends here, and there’s a lot of time and effort put in by others.

SLE: Can you tell what benefits you get with the lessons?

Ailsa: I can convert binary! Laughs… I’m not university educated, but it’s been interesting listening to art and media appreciation.

SLE: So, how do you see the students grasping the topics covered, if they come from a varied background?

Ailsa: There are some big brains here, some of the girls are real-life students and are well versed with the subjects. Its’ nice listening to them discuss the subjects.
Ailsa further explained that she wishes to stay on the classes for the time to come, and that even though she is from Europe, classes from 9 pm until midnight UK time work for her. She has had to be selective with activities, though, as sometimes committing to set hours for stage productions etc. left her feeling lacking in her effort compared to the US-based participants.

Sitting later in Tiki’s office, she continued explaining the benefits for avatars studying at St. Elizabeth’s. “Like most of the SL experience, St. E’s is about community, friendships, and support. People who come here have a great chance to make themselves better. First, there are our academic offerings. A class takes between 3 and 6 hours to prepare, for a 1-hour presentation - our students are very bright, so the teachers have to be experts and prepared, so the quality is high.” As if this was not convincing enough, she kept on: “…and then there are the cultural pursuits. We have a creative writing class, where students get instruction for a published RL author, writer's club, where students simply share what they've been working on, informally; poetry class (instruction), poetry readings (presentation), art appreciation class, and also a gallery on campus where to display [pieces of students’ creations]. Our own dance company recently won 1st place in the Paragon Dance Animations Contest.”

Later, we met together with Tiki and St. E’s Housemother, the Dean of Student Housing Pat Wheelwright on the University premises.

SLE: What's a "Housemother"?

Pat: I am responsible for the general well-being of the students, and I manage the dorms as well as supervise the Prefects (senior students who have extra duties). Prefects assist staff in matters of discipline, most of them have a dorm that they manage. I also DJ here, and do the coffee house once a month.

SLE: Do students have residence requirements, and are they expected to stay on campus outside classes?

Pat: Students have a dorm bed, for role-play (RP) purposes. Some of them also rent houses here, they are not required to stay on campus.
Tiki: They also often have houses elsewhere, but it's nice to have a dorm to belong to. It's a place to hang out on campus and be casual - it is no issue to get them to stay in the dorm, trust me. The girls like to come to school.
Pat: This place is more and more about community. Many of these girls are here, seeking that.

Since Pat and Tiki both are involved in the administrative and disciplinary aspect of running the University, SLE was curious about any disciplinary issues they might have encountered.
Pat: Yes, there are adult features - but only if you want them. You can enjoy St. E’s without.
Tiki: Everyone is adult here, so naturally there are romances.

Pat: We try to keep it as much like a RL college as possible - I had a student who asked if they could have a dorm with bondage toys in the dorm - I said "no" without any hesitation!  If it is RP acting out, that is different than someone who is just plain hard to get along with. We try to screen out people who we think might not be good for the community. If someone is disruptive, they are going to get booted out!

Tiki: We have a code book that dictates the rules. It tells students their rights and responsibilities.

Pat further explained that the University does not suspend students for trivial reasons, and only the President can ban a student permanently. St. Elizabeth’s has a school uniform that apparently the students wear gladly, out of the sense of community. Even though it is laid out as a Catholic University, expression of faith is not a requirement, and religious people as well as agnostics alike participate in the University life, including Mass. 

The campus is now two full sims and is looking to expand to twelve – with a sailing experience that spans eight of the sims. Students run their own newspaper, “The Chronicle” that focuses on community events and stories, including photo journals and creative stories. As the curriculum is varied, from humanities to science lectures, the students spend their time willingly in classes and doing homework, having a sense of academic advancement.  Having toured the premises and talked to staff and students, it became clear that the lofty goals of this establishment are being met, for the advancement of avatars in Second Life to the better.


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