Committee on Chaplaincy Presents Report: Research Finds Diversity And Calls for Change

Appointing a Director of Spiritual and Religious Life is one of several suggestions given by the Committee on Chaplaincy and Spirituality in its final report. Becky Sykes, Associate Head of School, headed the committee whose members included Max Alovisetti, Instructor in Psychology; Vincent Avery, Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies; Reverend Ebner, Chaplain; Shawn Fulford, Instructor in Math; Sean Hilton ’07; Raj Mundra, Instructor in Biology; Hasan Siddiqi ’07; and Gregory Wilkin, Instructor in English. The committee spent the past few months discussing ways to revise the current chaplaincy program to better suit the needs of students. The model the school has been using is based on religion and spirituality 30 years ago. In light of the world’s shifting view of religion, changes from the current system are needed to encompass the different religious landscapes more broadly. Mrs. Sykes said, “The idea to form this committee originally came from the Strategic Plan, which was done in 2004.” She said that the Strategic Plan was a comprehensive overview of the school and that Mrs. Chase felt that religion and spirituality needed to be looked at as well. According to the report, the committee noticed a “growing diversity within the Christian and Jewish communities on campus, rising numbers of Muslim and Hindu students, heightened awareness of the spiritual needs of the non-religious members of the school community, and increased attention to the role religion plays in national and international affairs.” The report also addressed the fact that a growing number of Americans consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.” The committee defined spirituality as “the ability to look beyond themselves, with fostering in them a capacity for self-transcendence, in which the self is understood to be part of something greater than the self,” which, Reverend Ebner noted, applied to the school’s Non Sibi motto. After recognizing the growing diversity in religion, the committee suggested that the most effective way to address this issue would be to hire a Director of Spiritual and Religious Life. This Director would oversee the chaplains and advisors for faith groups on campus. The committee therefore concluded that increasing the responsibilities and resources available to the chaplaincy “will enable the academy to respond more effectively to the changing religious and spiritual needs of its students, faculty and the educational program.” The Director would be responsible for not only meeting the religious needs of those involved in religious traditions, but also the spiritual needs of those who are not. The Director would support students and faculty of many different religions. Mrs. Sykes said, “The Director would be a resource for kids who are searching for or have a specific faith and this person would help the student find meaningful ways to worship or find a house of worship that does support them [the student].” Other recommendations include “retaining the three positions that serve the Jewish, Roman Catholic and Protestant faith communities and making appropriate additional arrangements to serve other identifiable and established faith communities on campus.” The committee recognized that even if students didn’t affiliate themselves with a particular religion, they still felt some sort of spirituality. Sean Hilton ’07 said, “It’s possible that students who don’t associate themselves with any faith may feel that such a report doesn’t pertain to them, while it almost certainly does to some level.” Overall, the participants in this committee seemed to be impressed and happy with the results. Mrs. Sykes said, “One of the best characteristics of a group at a school like this is that it has perspectives from many different constituencies.” Hilton said, “Having sat through the 17 meetings in which the committee worked to develop its ideas for modifying the chaplaincy to best meet the school’s current needs, I was really happy with the way the report turned out.”