Maintaining Chaplaincy is Vital for Community Relationships

The Office of the Chaplaincy at the Claremont
Colleges is at a crossroads. The
Council of Presidents of the
Claremont Colleges announced April 9 that a committee led by Pomona College professor Ken Wolf is currently
assessing the Chaplaincy at their
request. This committee has been specifically charged
to examine whether the Chaplaincy meets our
students’ needs.
In addition, the presidents plan to hold open forums in the fall of  2015 to
discuss the Chaplaincy.

In
its April 10 editorial section, TSL called for an
expanded Chaplaincy that would include hiring a fourth Chaplain or
coordinator who would
address the pastoral needs of Muslim students, staff and faculty.
We agree wholeheartedly. McAlister Center plays a vital role in our campus community and
should address the new demographics of the
Claremont Colleges. With this in mind, we submit the following considerations.

First, we challenge
the notion that the Chaplaincy is best seen as a
student service; in fact, it serves a much broader community. We argue
that the review should also consider
the spiritual
well-being of faculty, staff and community members. We
are concerned
that a review with an overly narrow
conception of the stakeholders at
McAlister could have an adverse effect
on a remarkably
multi-layered community, where faculty and
staff develop long-lasting
relationships with
students, different from the traditional hierarchical professor-student relationship. At McAlister we create a community by building
bridges across ranks, generations and colleges.

Second, we argue
for a Chaplaincy located within the colleges,
where our students can experience the transformative experiences that arise
from an environment of respect for
different religious traditions and collaboration. The
co-equal, multifaith Chaplaincy
and shared facilities at McAlister Center
model cooperation across religious boundaries at
a time when tolerance—and awareness of
other faiths—is of tremendous importance in our world.

For many years, McAlister
Center has been a spiritual home to many faculty and
staff and has added an
important dimension to our sense of belonging and
involvement in the colleges’ community. At
McAlister, faculty, staff and
students create a community of
equals. This
is where we partner with other community organizations,
where we pray, discuss current affairs and learn from each other as peers. 

The community of support that our students find at
the Chaplaincy allows them to succeed in college. Many of our students, especially
those coming from
more traditional backgrounds,
may struggle when transitioning into the unfamiliar—and markedly
secular—culture of the
residential liberal arts college. The Chaplaincy
provides students with a
space to explore and affirm their
religious values, fostering an environment of learning, cooperation, dialogue and diversity, free of the power dynamics that can dominate the classroom. 

The early years of college present students with
many intellectual and personal challenges. Facing
this adversity in collaboration with a like-minded community can help ground
students and reduce the sense of isolation
they may encounter. This phase of
their life and personal development is a critical one. We regularly witness the transformative experiences that the Chaplaincy provides for our students and how it serves a deep personal need for faith and guidance for a very broad cross-section of students. The Chaplaincy meets the changing needs of our students of faith. 

The importance of
maintaining a center for religious activities on campus lies in the
idea of linking the life of one’s faith with the
life of one’s intellect. The former
informs, enriches and deepens the latter. Were students directed
to go off campus in search of spiritual
and religious guidance, they would certainly
find it, but it
may lack the
inclusive, open and intellectually oriented
college setting of McAlister.

McAlister promotes
the dream of Pomona President James Blaisdell, where members from the
different colleges come
together as a single community.
At McAlister, we build relationships
with members
from other colleges, and build ties that
extend beyond
our own institutions. Moreover, we reach
out to those beyond the colleges’ gates. The openness and multifaith
orientation of McAlister Center
have been instrumental in building this ‘town-gown’ bridge. McAlister
is truly a place where
students, faculty, staff and the broader community
interact under a common set of values to a greater degree than any other place on campus.

We are deeply concerned with the ‘roadmap’ established
by the Presidents’ letter. It is inconceivable to us
that open forums be held to evaluate the performance or value of any department
or office on
campus, especially one like
the Chaplaincy, which champions so
many of the values that this community holds dear. It
is precisely at McAlister where so many of the difficult but necessary conversations
with global implications are
held. 

If the Chaplaincy does not survive this
process or does so in a
form that violates the principles that have guided it for the past 42 years,
we will lose more than
a space to worship on campus; we
will lose a space to create community,
to affirm our values and to build bridges across generations and college constituencies.

Fernando Lozano is the Associate Dean of Pomona College, David
Menefee-Libey is a Pomona College politics professor, and David Tanenbaum is a Pomona College physics and astronomy professor.

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