In the heart of Brookhaven sits Oglethorpe University, a four-year, private college nestled into a tree-filled, 107-year-old campus featuring stone Gothic buildings and steeped in history and transformation. Oglethorpe President Dr. Nicholas Ladany just asks that you don’t call it a “hidden gem.”

Oglethorpe University President Dr. Nicholas Ladany.

“I no longer want to be seen as a ‘hidden gem,’” Ladany said recently. “I’m used to a strong ‘town and gown’ relationship. Brookhaven is a great place to connect. We serve as a community place for residents to walk across campus, visit the coffee shop, and experience the beauty of our park-like settings and buildings.”

The university and the city plan to start collaborating in new ways, too. In April, an event called Sip Brookhaven at Oglethorpe is to be held on campus green space. Spearheaded by Explore Brookhaven, the event will feature wine and cocktails with sommeliers and mixologists. More details will be available in January. 

In his third year at the university, Ladany – a psychologist serving as Oglethorpe’s 17th president — said he wants Oglethorpe to continue growth as a university in several areas, including strengthening connections with the community. He says he’s focusing on increasing the diversity of  the faculty, staff and the student body, and supporting a multi-pronged approach to mental wellness.

Some changes already are being made. Oglethorpe attracts students looking to study business and health, and the makeup of the student body has grown more diverse. Of the 403 incoming freshman in 2021, 34 percent were first-generation students and 64 percent identified as people of color. 

Ladany emphasizes health and wellness as a “centerpiece” of his  administration. “What do we need to do to enhance health and wellness in our community, our students, but also our faculty and staff?” he asked. “Helping enhance mental health on campus, particularly after the pandemic, is critical.”

To start, Oglethrope has opened the university’s counseling center to offer unlimited services for all students. “We’re not putting limits on our sessions,” he said, “It’s the way we’re taking care of them as members of our community, members of our family.”

The college also reaches out to students in new ways. From the incoming class of 425 students, more than 300 requested a peer mentor to help with the transition to college. Within a month of launching the mentoring program, he said, more than 5,000 texts went back and forth between the mentors and mentees. 

“There are multiple ways to enhance wellness on campus,” he said. “I talk a lot about the importance of multiple meaningful relationships on campus. That’s what we’re about – developing those are critical for a student’s success.

Ladany says his goal is to build long-term success for Oglethorpe, so that in 20 or 30 years, the campus is aesthetically and physically in good shape, the student population remains diverse, and the non-traditional degree program is thriving. 

“We are a place where we can have dialogue, we don’t limit speech, we try to make sure that everyone can have a free and fair conversation and feel respected in those conversations,” he said.

 “One example would be from one end of the political spectrum to the other. We’re the place where you can come and have those discussions and do so in a respectful and affirming manner, without feeling canceled, without feeling dehumanized.” 

Logan C. RitchieStaff Writer

Logan C. Ritchie writes features and covers Brookhaven for Rough Draft Atlanta.