The evolution of Dignitas

Bret Amundson and Dignitas students

Bret Amundson and Dignitas students

Kanye, Chewbacca and everything in between

Dignitas, the College's program for first-year students, has a new leader and a refocused aim.

Bret Amundson, the College's director of choral activities, now leads the program with Megan Perry-Spears, dean of students

"I think this job is important because out of all of the classes at CSS, this one has the ability to transform a person," Amundson said. "If we can reach every freshman who comes here and introduce them to what it means to be a great community, just think what this school will look like in four years - a group of people open and engaged in community building."

The Classes

This experience starts in the classroom. Every freshman student must choose one of the many Dignitas courses - each focusing on dignity, diversity, Benedictine tradition and values, Catholic intellectual tradition, and Catholic social teaching.

While this sounds rather traditional. These classes are anything but.

Fairy Tales in the Modern World, Star Wars and Servant Leadership, and Malcolm X to Kanye West: Race and Identity in a White Society - these are just a few of the many Dignitas classes students can take, each with an upperclassman teaching assistant to serve as mentor and a connection to the rest of campus.

As random as they sound, each of these courses helps students accept and value the challenges and responsibilities involved in being a first-year college student, reflect on issues from various perspectives and make connections with the larger community.

The Experiences

These connections are fostered through common experiences that all freshman must do together. For example, this past year all first-year students attended a lecture by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Katherine Boo on her experience with extreme poverty in Mumbai, India. 

They also attend five Dignitas labs and reflect together on their experiences.

"The goal of the labs and common elements is to connect what students are learning in class to out-of-class experiences within the CSS community, the Duluth community, or the worldwide community," Amundson said.

And thanks to the Star Wars class, apparently even the intergalactic community.

Student Perspective:

"I can't speak for other Dignitas classes, but my section gave me some really beautiful insights. Learning more intimately about each of the values helped me realize how each one plays a part in my life and my education. After going through it, I feel more connected to the rich Benedictine heritage that CSS has. Dignitas gave me a springboard, which let me get more involved in diversity groups. It's actually made me realize that social justice is something that I want to dedicate my life to, and it's a very large part of my identity as a student at CSS."

-Michael Johnson is a sophomore majoring in English Secondary Education