A new organization at the College of William and Mary, the Compassion Action Board, is working to transform the College into a “University of Compassion” by signing the Charter of Compassion, a cooperative effort to reestablish compassionate thinking and action in daily lives.
Harika Peddibhotla ’15 talked about the events that led to the founding of the organization and about the importance of compassion to the organization and, ultimately, to the College.
“We were really inspired by the Dalai Lama who visited a few years. His message to the community really touched on [compassion],” Peddibhotla said. “We realize that William and Mary is a compassionate place, but I don’t think we take the time to recognize that, and we all thought that we should recognize our self as a compassionate place, and we should promote and encourage that. So we wanted to do something where we could sustain dialogue about compassion.”
According to CAB member Matthew Lentini ’16, the Charter of Compassion was created by Karen Armstrong, a religious scholar who teaches about the central role of compassion in many major religions and its ability to alleviate suffering and bring people together.
Besides their long-term goal of getting the College to sign the Charter of Compassion, Alex Williams ‘17 detailed some of the CAB’s short-term goals.
“One of our goals that we want for next semester is to form a panel with different community leaders and religious scholars talking about compassion in different religions and faith organizations and how it’s taught and how compassion fits in with those religions,” Williams said.
The CAB has been spreading their message largely through presentations to various faith and diversity organizations on campus, including HOPE, the College Diversity Advisory Committee and the Sexual Assault Task Force, as well as campus administrators.
Several administrators have joined the CAB, including Associate Vice President for Health and Wellness Dr. R. Kelly Crace and Dean of Students Marjorie Thomas. The organization is open to students as well.
According to Lentini, their message has generally been positively received by these organizations, although a few people have criticized the CAB’s mission.
“We have had some criticisms,” Lentini said. “One person said when they think of compassion they see it as a negative. Mostly because they see it as a condescending action.”
Peddibhotla explained some other criticisms the CAB has received.
“The charter includes something about religion, and we have gotten some criticism about how we might be promoting a certain religion and idea,” Peddibhotla said.
Leslie Revilock, the CAB’s advisor, responded to some of the criticism that the CAB has received concerning its supposed religious stance.
“The Charter for Compassion … doesn’t say anything specific about religion, but it says it’s the basis for all moral, ethical and religious systems,” said Revilock. “So being a state school some might give pushback thinking that it’s coming from a religious point of view, but it’s really not, it’s coming from an all-encompassing philosophic and humanistic point of view.”
Peddibhotla said the CAB has met with College President Taylor Reveley, who encouraged the CAB to reach out to administrators and expand their message to the student body in order to gain more support for their mission.
In the near future, the CAB hopes to join other universities, such as Stanford University, the University of Georgia and Western Connecticut University, who have also signed the Charter for Compassion.