From the Honors College to the World of Ideas: Changes in the Seaman’s Bethel

Posted on October 10, 2018 by Brian Poole and Kathy Cooke
Brian Poole and Kathy Cooke

The historic Seaman’s Bethel, home of the Honors College, is located in the heart of campus between Moulton Tower and the Student Center. The Bethel, as we fondly call it, is the community core of the Honors College. a place with glass writing surfaces to share equations and puzzles, comfortable seats to exchange uncomfortable ideas, and quiet corners to contemplate the expanse of the universe and the beauty of art. The Bethel is one way that the Honors College helps students manage the stresses and schedules of their busy lives.

Honors College students sitting on couches at Bethel

Students can read and write as they prepare for classes—or applications for grants and graduate school—print papers at seven in the morning or at midnight, and even practice their ping pong serve.

But it’s more than a gathering space.  Our Seaman’s Bethel was originally si Seaman’s Bethel ten miles away at 75 Church Street in downtown Mobile, but was moved—literally, brick-by-brick—to South’s campus in 1968. 

Image of Bethel being built

It also belongs to a larger tradition of providing a place for individuals—seamen (and rarely, women)—who were often literally at sea.  Historically, the Bethel has provided a place to ground oneself, to reconnect with one’s values, between voyages. 

As a community, we think creatively about how to improve our space; over summer, 2018, we implemented some fabulous ideas.  For instance, during the 2017-18 academic year a group of students proposed, as part of an honors class project, that we should transform our janitor closet into a coffee nook.

Honors College being painted

The fun and adventure of college sometimes includes stress and fatigue, but in the Bethel we can make ourselves a cup of coffee—or a cappuccino or hot chocolate—to help stay focused. There is Starbucks in the library during regular hours, and espresso anytime in the Honors College.

Honors students getting coffee

We also have created new seats and spaces to enjoy beverages, studying, and interpersonal time.  The old stand-by couches and chairs are still in the common area, the two lofts, and the basement. But now we also have outdoor seating and a patio for the lovely days of autumn, winter, and spring that are just around the corner.

Outside work being done to Bethel

This space, just outside the north doors of the Bethel, is shaded most of the day and has access to campus Wi-Fi, perfect for lunch or latte (green tea matcha or almond milk too), or laptops and writing.

Woman and female student enjoying coffee outside

South’s amazing grounds department also worked over the summer, drawing circles on the grass that revealed where colorful plants would eventually surround the patio, as well as the other three sides of the building. 

Image of window at Bethel

The wonderful maintenance staff also restored the gas lamps that mark the entry to the Bethel—and serve as the inspiration for the Honors College.

Front door and sign to Honors College

The Seaman’s Bethel is a space to regroup as a community, to ground ourselves while in a sea of ideas and experiences, and to gather ourselves for the leadership and rigor that we ask of students. Together the people, space, and surroundings of the Honors College inspire curiosity, creativity, and leadership. The Seaman’s Bethel provides a foundation for members of the Honors community to launch themselves and voyage onward as thoughtful, fully engaged human beings. 

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