In Review Process, Chaplaincy Structure Should Look to Expand

Since its inception in 1949, the Chaplaincy of the Claremont Colleges has undergone reviews from the administration, adapting to changes as necessary. The model began with a Protestant chaplain before adding Jewish and Catholic chaplains. Now, the chaplaincy sits at a critical juncture with its current review (read more in our article by Carlos Ballesteros and Lauren Ison).

When the current model was implemented in 1973, it was radical. Few—if any—U.S. colleges had a comparable structure with three chaplains of different faiths who acted as equals. Though the demographics of the Claremont Colleges have changed in the last 40 years, no other faiths have been given representation in the chaplaincy.

Last year, the chaplains submitted a request for a full-time Muslim chaplain. This March, the 5C Muslim Student Association acted in a similar vein, releasing a petition for a full-time coordinator to provide support and guidance to students. Despite this vocalized support, these requests have not been approved or incorporated into the chaplaincy’s current model. 

Even working within the current system, the Claremont University Consortium (CUC) should have hired a Muslim chaplain long ago. Schools with fewer students than the Claremont consortium have showed their support for Muslim students in this way—for example, Wesleyan University and Middlebury College both have Muslim chaplains on staff. By failing to adapt to changing demographics, the once-radical CUC model has fallen behind other schools across the country.

Some members of the Chaplaincy Review Committee have expressed concerns that the current chaplains are not able to effectively work with students of all faiths. However, chaplains can and do serve as facilitators to help students find places of worship off-campus if they desire, essentially performing a dean’s duties without the official title.

Further, Adriana di Bartolo, director of the Queer Resource Center, said that she trusts the chaplains and frequently refers her students to their office. A Dean of Religious Life could also serve as a mentor for queer and trans students, but new relationships would have to be established rather than working with the existing relationships of trust.

While a Dean of Religious Life would be a more neutral presence on campus, we believe it is essential that existing campus communities for students of faith not be disrupted in the process. Replacing the chaplains with a dean would risk upending the religious communities that have thrived for decades. 

As the review process continues, we urge the committee to take into account the needs of its communities of faith, and hiring a Muslim chaplain—while remaining open to the potential of hiring other chaplains if the need arises—is the fairest solution to all involved.

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