Recent News from Campuses
It was like a “Mighty Ducks” remake.
Saint Mary’s first Cardinal women’s hockey team in 1998-99 wasn’t exactly composed of first-string recruits. “We were a mishmash of girls — ranging from a few who had played hockey their entire lives to girls like myself who had been around hockey all my life and knew how to skate, but hadn’t played,” said Carey (Stover) Benson ’99.
“We had two figure skaters who we recruited to play hockey instead. And there were even two girls who had never really skated before, but were determined to figure it out.”
About the only thing they shared? The desire to play hockey.
Benson was there for the birth of women’s hockey at Saint Mary’s, even before it became a varsity sport. It started when she was a first-year student, recruited to play some pick-up hockey games by Jess Bauer ’99.
By the end of that year, these women formed a club, one of the men’s hockey players served as 46 their coach, and they traveled to other schools via carpool. Bauer drove the Zamboni and cleared the ice for them, and junior varsity men’s players would referee their games.
“It was very ‘Mighty Duck’ish,” Benson said. Fittingly, someone on the team had heard about Mighty Duck Grants, matching grants awarded annually by the Minnesota Legislature in support of ice sports in the state. With the help of Tony Piscitiello, AFSC ’69, M’82, and Ken Pelligrini ’72 from the Saint Mary’s Admission Office, and then athletic director Don Olson, dreams of a varsity women’s hockey team began to take shape.
“By our junior year, we knew we were going to go varsity,” Benson said. “Tony Piscitiello began recruiting girls who played hockey. And by that summer we knew a coach was coming, we just didn’t know who it was.”
That coach turned out to be Jeff Vizenor, who came to Saint Mary’s in his late 20s not fully knowing what to expect, but excited for the opportunity. “The thing that was amazing about our team was that our motto was, ‘Work hard and have fun,’ and that’s just what we did, Vizenor said. “You couldn’t have asked for a group of young women who worked harder than they did. They worked like crazy and just loved it. We really pulled together as a team.”
Vizenor coached for two years at Saint Mary’s, and both years Cardinal women’s hockey captured conference titles.
Benson said more than 20 years later she still has a sense of pride in being on that team. “Being on that team gave me a connection to Saint Mary’s that otherwise I wouldn’t have had,” she said.
“I’m from Wyoming, and have zero connection to Minnesota. The people I’m closest to are my teammates. For me, hockey was the glue that brought Saint Mary’s into my life and kept it here. Some of the best memories I have are from being on that team.
“I’ve been competitive my whole life. We started a team of mishmash players and grew it from the ground up. We were MIAC champions. We were a really good team of misfits. That’s carried me far in life. I’ve been able to say, ‘I can always figure it out. I did that at Saint Mary’s playing hockey.’ ”
Benson went to grad school for sports psychology and worked for a reputable sports agency in Florida for seven years. To get closer to home, she moved to Colorado and worked in the athletics department at the University of Denver before changing careers and becoming a corporate recruiter for finance professionals. She went on to earn both an MBA and a Master’s of Education in Counseling.
Vizenor went on to coach for the University of Wisconsin and Minnesota State University- Mankato and is currently a high school principal, but he continues to referee hockey in the Twin Cities metro area. Like Benson, his time at Saint Mary’s holds a special place in his heart.
He and about 10 alumni-athletes from that first women’s team returned to campus this past fall for the 50 years of women reunion. Benson organized the reunion on Facebook and said returning to campus was like stepping back in time.
“It was like we were back 20 years ago, sharing stories and laughing,” Vizenor said. “This is a highly successful group of women who have learned lessons from being a hockey player and a Saint Mary’s graduate. Two players from those first years are in the Sports Hall of Fame.”
Benson said she’ll always support women’s hockey. “When you look at sports like football or baseball where physical strength and physical size come so much into play, it’s hard for girls to feel they can compete at the same level as guys. In hockey, girls really can compete successfully. It’s a sport where boys don’t look at you as a girl but a teammate. You’re not a girl, you’re a hockey player. It’s an equalizer.”
Vizenor said the skills you learn in hockey are life-long skills. “There’s something special about being a hockey player,” he said. “Hockey players and hockey people are special people in a very unique family.
“And Saint Mary’s is a special place,” he added. “It’s crazy to think that those two years could have such a big impact on my life.”
Photo caption: Alumnae of the first Cardinal women’s hockey team returned to campus last fall.
This week we welcomed the first of our students back to campus … students who moved into the Alverna Center for their 14-day quarantine. We are checking in with the students multiple times a day, and they have access to hot meals through food service. We are excited to have students back and are preparing for resident assistants and peer ministers to arrive soon.
As of Aug. 1, the name of Student Affairs and Student Life has officially changed to Student Affairs. My own title, office names, and areas where the office is noted have all been updated.
On Friday, Aug. 7, the Winona Campus will welcome Cynthia Kenyon from the Minnesota Department of Health. Kenyon will be visiting various spaces on campus, including, but not limited to, residence halls, dining services, and classroom spaces to assist the university with its continuing work related to the return of all students to campus.
Student Senate will continue to meet virtually starting in September. Your student senate president, Kendall Archer, her executive board, and senators are here to assist you and work with the administration of the university to get through these challenging times.
I would like each of you to reflect on the concept of creating familial units or COVID pods. This practice is intended as a way to manage the inevitable. Certain groups of students are naturally going to spend a lot of time together, and we encourage this interaction, as it is healthy and appropriate. When students are on campus, they develop their own campus family. The goal of these familial units is to honor what students do naturally and let them know that they can and should eat together, spend time together, and do things together, viewing it similarly to how they are spending time at home with their own families now.
This is something to think about and will be encouraged as it might be a way to enjoy the college experience while socially distancing and following COVID-19 guidelines.
Keep this information handy in case you have questions related to COVID-19 planning:
Visit these sections on smumn.edu/covidplanning for more updates:
- Commuter students
- Fitzgerald Library and McEnery Center (under Academics)
- Gostomski Fieldhouse
- Motor pool and club/organization guidance (under Residence Life and Student Activities)
- Performance arts (under Academics)
- R.I.S.E. and competitive sports (under Residence Life and Student Activities)
- Residence hall lounges (under Residence Life and Student Activities)
- Safe ride bus (under Residence Life and Student Activities)
- Saint Thomas More Chapel (under Campus Ministry)
- Student Success and First Generation Initiative (under Academics)
- Wellness Center
Stay safe and remember, together, we are Saint Mary’s.
Tim Gossen, Ed.D.
Vice President for Student Affairs
Why is Saint Mary’s confident that a 14-day quarantine at home before classes begin is a good idea, when a large percentage of cases are contracted in the home?
The density that transmits the virus is when people are crammed together in factories or frontline service work in close physical proximity to one another or the public. Unless a home is filled with a large family, many of whom are active outside the home, it is typically the safest place for someone to quarantine.
Will there be exceptions to the mask mandate for students who have medical conditions that do not allow for the wearing of a mask?
If someone has a medical condition and wearing a mask is not feasible, they should contact the Wellness Center at 507-457-1492 or email@example.com. If appropriate, the student should fill out the accommodation form for academics.
What are the regulations of going on and off campus? How can students enjoy what Winona has to offer while still being safe?
We realize that we cannot keep students on campus all fall. Students will need to work, run errands and — yes, we are encouraging students to take advantage of the natural outdoor beauty of this area. We are asking students to stay on campus as much as possible, but when they must leave campus, they should interact responsibly (wash hands frequently, use hand sanitizer, maintain social distance, and wear a mask). If students travel out of the state or outside of the region, they should complete the travel notification form to help with contact tracing.
If one of our roommates gets sick, will we be asked to quarantine too?
If a student is symptomatic, they should be tested at the Wellness Center or Winona Health. The student will be asked to quarantine until the test comes back. Students may quarantine on campus (in the Alverna Center) or at home. We encourage them to go home if possible. If the roommate chooses to quarantine at home, the other roommates can continue living as usual. If the roommate test comes back positive, they are encouraged to go home or to quarantine at Alverna. The Minnesota Department of Health will use contact tracing to let anyone who was in close contact know whether or not they should also quarantine. You should always be watching for COVID-19 related symptoms.
Will dance classes still be held?
All students in dance classes will wear masks, and all classes have been adapted to observe social distancing. All dancers will wear footwear of some type; bare feet will not be allowed. This applies to all classes taught both on the main campus and at Minnesota Conservatory for the Arts. The occupancy rates have been reduced for social distancing. Some classes may also be moved to outdoor locations.
How will intramurals work? Will outdoor competitions like flag football and sand volleyball be allowed?
We are reviewing the slate of offerings for competitive sports and adhering to appropriate guidelines. We will announce our decision within the next few weeks.
How will the mail room be different?
There will be no difference for students. Parcel lockers will continue to be used; please remember to bring your student ID. Mail delivery to offices will remain discontinued in fall, so offices will need to pick up their mail.
If I were to leave campus to attend a wedding in the Twin Cities area, will I be required to quarantine when returning to the Winona Campus?
We strongly recommend students remain on campus as much as possible. The requirement to quarantine would be based on the event itself. Our expectation is if people travel off campus to attend an event, they practice social distancing and wear a mask. You would also be asked to fill out the travel notification form.
Will clubs still have their full budget that the senate approved for the 2020-21 academic year? If not, how will club budgets be changed this semester?
Student Senate is taking this under consideration and will be communicating with clubs.
In regards to the 27 courses that have already moved to online delivery … are there additional faculty members who are waiting for approval to teach remotely?
No additional faculty are waiting for approval. Classroom capacity will determine any additional courses that will move online, however, facilities and the registrar are actively working to ensure appropriate spaces for classes which will be completed shortly.
How will labs work, particularly if we have to go home and shift to online learning?
All faculty have been encouraged to “front load” their classes, which means prioritizing content that needs to be done in person during the first half of the semester. That way if we do have to go remote, most of the necessary face-to-face work, such as labs, will be complete.
What will the library look like and will McEnery be used?
The library will be open during usual hours, with a few adjustments for weekend hours. The entire building will be available for use. All library space has been reconfigured to allow for social distancing. Items will be available for check out, a self-checkout system has been set up at the front circulation desk to avoid contact. (Library staff will still be behind the desk to assist as needed.) Students can consult with a librarian via phone, chat, email, and Zoom appointments. Interlibrary loans will be available, but services are delayed, due to differences in library reopenings throughout the state. Study rooms will be available, but students will need to reserve all study rooms through the library webpage reservations system. Students will pick up a key to open the study room at the circulation desk and will need to leave their ID at the desk until they return the key. There will be disinfecting materials available for students to use prior to their use of any study space in the library. As required throughout campus, masks must be worn in all library common spaces.
Have an additional question or concern? Fill out the form and let us know.
Working in genetic research at Mayo Clinic, Beth (Schubert) Pitel ’06 solves complex puzzles, which could ultimately improve patient care or even save lives.
Pitel became part of a research team using genetic testing to understand why young children were suddenly dying about 15 years ago in an Amish community. The deaths had baffled medical examiners and brought heartbreak to the Amish community. Some of her most recent research was covered by CNN.
It was eventually uncovered that a gene called RYR2 was to blame. The children who died were found to have inherited a duplication of part of this gene from both parents. The results provided some closure to family members, recourse for children currently carrying the gene, and options for preventative measures through genetic counseling.
Pitel describes her job as threefold:
Genomic assay development. “When you go to the doctor and they do genetic testing, they are ordering a clinical test,” she explained. “I’m one of those people who help to develop molecular genetic testing methods. I make sure they are of the highest quality and have an acceptable turnaround time for the patient.”
Genomic annotations in cancer. “I am lead development technologist on a team called the ‘Genomics of Oncology Annotation Team’ (GOAT). We create tools that support the assays we develop. Those tools can help us determine what alterations might be important for the doctor or patient to know about,” she said. “Can we align abnormalities in the genome with pieces of knowledge? What do we know about the deletion of a certain gene in a particular type of cancer? We can make assertions based on peer review journals, genomic knowledge bases, or our own clinical experience in the lab. We have a lot of resources at our fingertips, so I’m really grateful to be involved in gathering that data and putting it in a format that is useful for those trying to interpret these complex genomic assays.” Pitel also co-leads a virtual molecular tumor board for the Variant Interpretation for Cancer Consortium (VICC), an international collaborative effort to better utilize what is known about mutations in cancer.
Clinical Research. “In the case of Dr. (Michael) Ackerman’s study (with the Amish children), we helped to interpret the data from chromosomal microarray and mate pair sequencing (MPseq) studies and deliver results back to the team. We get pulled into research studies a lot because we are able to provide access to the technology needed to answer complex problems and the interpretation on the back end.”
Pitel said that her job is very diverse and fulfilling. “It’s a great use of my education,” she said. “I think critically about what I’m doing and troubleshoot different problems that arise. Working through a difficult case is the ideal way to use my education, which was ignited at Saint Mary’s.”
Pitel said she was always drawn to science, and genetics in particular.
“I felt like being in a lab and working with technology would be a really good fit for me,” she said. She eagerly became the university’s first cytogenetic technology major, which was a 4 + 1 program with Mayo Clinic. “I jumped on that opportunity and didn’t look back,” she said.
“I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to come to Mayo Clinic, and it all seems to have worked out.”
Pitel went on to earn a master’s in biochemistry and molecular biology and has worked at Mayo Clinic for more than 12 years in a variety of roles, all within the same lab. Her current title is development technologist.
Although the cytogenetic technology major was phased out, several university alumni, in this program and others, have gone on to work at Mayo Clinic. Debra Martin, Ph.D., department chair of Biology, estimates that at least 10% of those working in the lab with Pitel are Saint Mary’s alumni.
“That wouldn’t surprise me; there are a lot of Saint Mary’s alumni here,” Pitel said, adding that she enjoys seeing Dr. Martin bring current students through the lab for annual tours. Dr. Martin is one of the people she credits most for preparing her for her career.
“Dr. Martin prides herself on being a tough teacher,” Pitel said. “But she ingrained a lot of biochemistry and molecular biology in my mind. I felt prepared. And I worked with Dr. Dick Kowles (now faculty emeritus) on my research project. Working with him was just a joy, and he always had a new joke or quip. I could be in a lab for hours counting cells under a microscope, but he would make me feel grateful that I was there.
And Dr. Jeanne Minnerath made a huge impact on my career trajectory; she brought me to Mayo Clinic on multiple occasions to tour labs and lab programs.”
Pitel also believes that being part of Habitat for Humanity, playing on the volleyball team, singing in the church choir, serving as a resident assistant, and other campus activities while at Saint Mary’s taught her how to balance her time and juggle priorities, which has come in handy in her career and with her family.
“I don’t think I would have been able to take advantage of being so involved had I been at a larger university,” she said. “Saint Marys taught me to make time for the things that are important.”
The Rev. Dr. Siri Erickson, Chaplain at Gustavus, on spirituality, religion and science, her many roles as chaplain on a liberal arts campus, and her own faith journey.
Season 2, Episode 6: From Chemistry Major to College Chaplain
Learning for Life at Gustavus is produced by JJ Akin and Matthew Dobosenski of Gustavus Office of Marketing. Will Clark, senior communications studies major and videographer at Gustavus, who also provides technical expertise to the podcast, and me, your host, Greg Kaster. The views expressed in this podcast are not necessarily those of Gustavus Adolphus College.
The college or university chaplain is a ubiquitous and familiar figure in higher education. Part of an entire universe of chaplains encompassing also, for example, hospitals, prisons, the military. Think Father Mulcahy from the movie and TV series MASH, and even teams in the national football league. Yet most of us, I suspect, know little about what a college chaplain actually does, what it is like to be one at a liberal arts college, which is why I thought it would be both illuminating and interesting to speak with my colleague, the Reverend Dr. Siri Erickson, chaplain of Gustavus since 2013.
Chaplain Erickson attended that other excellent and wealthy liberal arts college to the east of Gustavus, Carleton College, in Northfield, Minnesota, and during both her master of divinity and doctorate of ministry from Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California. In her position as chaplain, Siri is involved in a host of campus and institutional initiatives, including as special assistant to the president for diversity, equity, and inclusion, and as director of the very-exciting Gustavus Academy for Faith, Science, and Ethics, funded by $850,000 in grants awarded by the Lilly Endowment. She’s both highly respected and much sought after by students, faculty, staff, and administrators alike, in no small part because she lives and breathes the five Gustavus core values of excellence, community, justice, service, and faith.
Chaplain Erickson, Siri, welcome to the podcast. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this opportunity to talk with you about your work, how you came to it, especially in light of recent events, both globally and locally.
Thank you, Greg. It’s great to be here.
Good to have you.
Let’s start with your background, because I think it would be interesting for listeners to hear about what you majored in at Carleton and how you came to be who are, what you’re doing now at Gustavus.
Yeah, thanks. So, I was the kid always in school and in church that had lots of questions, and that led me down into a love of science, which is a great set of disciplines devoted to the pursuit of asking big questions. Just as a practical matter, I always enjoyed doing problem sets more than reading books, so I thought a major in chemistry would be great because there’s lots of problem sets and lab work and group work, and Carleton had an outstanding chemistry department and a set of faculty that I just really loved to learn with and who I admired in many ways. In that learning situation, right from the very first chemistry class I had at Carleton, the curriculum was designed around real world challenges. At that time, the depletion of the ozone layer was a big thing, and so a lot of our Intro to Chemistry coursework was built around thinking about those big challenges facing our world. So I’ve always been oriented around big questions, big challenges, issues of environmental and social justice.
Then, as a good liberal arts education will do, two-thirds of my classes were not chemistry classes. My strategy beyond the general education requirements was just to seek out faculty that had a great reputation for teaching and take their classes, no matter what the subject was. I found that to be a very good strategy; I ended up in a really wide variety of different types of classes, including Christian feminist theologies, which was a class taught by our Roman Catholic nun at Carleton, who was actually a visiting professor while I was there. I ended up taking five different classes from her because she was such an outstanding professor, and I found in myself a deep passion for Christian theology, in particular, theologies written from liberationists and feminist perspectives. So it was really through that that I fell in love with Christian theology, and my senior year in college, felt a call, as we like to talk about in the ministry, to go to seminary.
I distinctly remember the very moment of that where I was living off-campus with some friends and we were sitting at our dining room table, and I was reading this book called God Beyond Gender, which was exploring the inner section of the religion language that we use to speak of God and how it often falls short of capturing the true mystery and fullness of God, and in lieu of reducing God to some kind of male figure. So I was reading that book by Gail Ramshaw, and I just had this epiphany moment of, “Hey, I’m going to go to seminary,” and I called my parents right then and there and told them my decision, or my growing sense of call. I wasn’t sure what they would say after they had just paid for me to get a chemistry degree, but they were very supportive. We have a lot of medical professionals in our family, but we don’t have a lot of research scientists, so they always thought it was kind of strange, like what was I doing studying chemistry, but they were very supportive.
So, then when I announced that I was going to go to seminary, my dad piped right in and said, “Well you should go to Claremont because they do a lot at the intersection of science and religion,” and he also was a graduate of Claremont School of Theology a long time ago. He has his doctorate in religion from that school as well. While I did not take my parents’ suggestion to follow them to Concordia College in Moorhead, which is where they both went, I did take up my dad’s suggestion and looked at Claremont School of Theology, and immediately fell in love with it and knew it was the place for me.
So, that was a big shift in career trajectories for me. In the meantime, I decided I should take a year off just to make sure, and I signed up with Lutheran Volunteer Corp and worked in an environmental organization in Seattle called People for Puget Sound where I spent a lot of time walking the shoreline of Puget Sound beaches as we were doing a citizen shoreline inventory mapping project, and that was back in the early days of GIS technology of using satellites to create maps. I was out there on the west coast for a year, and I loved Seattle. It’s just such a great city. Incredibly beautiful. I loved being a part of the environmental movement out there in such a gorgeous place. So when I was considering seminary, I did really decide I wanted to stay on the west coast, but I needed to get out of the rain, so southern California seemed like a great option for so many reasons: weather, and the orientation of Claremont School of Theology itself.
Going to that school was like being in this heavenly bubble where all my faculty really got what gender inclusion meant in the religious space. I distinctly remember my first theology class was like this old white guy professor, and I was not knowing what to expect. One of the first things he said in describing our first assignment was, “If any of you use male language for God, I’m docking your grade. So you either have to balance it out or you have to be gender neutral and be creative. I’ve been doing it for many years, so I know it can be done. There’s no excuses.” At that moment, I was like, “Yes, these are my people. I have found my place in the world. It was a wonderful, wonderful three years of bringing together feminist and liberationist theologies, science process, philosophy, which does a lot of work in the metaphysical space to bring science and religion together, and then learning the arts and crafts of ministry.
Was your dad, he received a doctorate in ministry or theology maybe you said. Was he a minister himself?
So his story’s interesting too, but the short version is when I was growing up, he was not in ministry. He did all of the coursework and the requirements, and then at the last minute decided he wasn’t ready, he wasn’t mature enough, to take all of that on. So he had a long career in publishing, marketing sales, which kind of ended at Augsburg Fortress in the Twin Cities, which is Lutheran publishing house. Then when I was finishing college, he decided he was finally ready to be a pastor. He got ordained and became a pastor. That’s been a fun shared journey that we’ve had together, and we’ve done-
Yeah. We’ve done classes, some teaching together at our respective churches, which were about a half hour apart when I was serving a Lutheran congregation in the cities. So, yeah. It’s been really fun.
You grew up in Minnesota, I assume.
Well, we moved around a fair bit. I was born in St. Cloud. Then we moved to Los Angeles, and then we moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and then we moved back to St. Cloud. Then when I was starting seventh grade, we moved to Shoreview, where my mother finally insisted we were not moving from. So …
And for listeners who don’t know, that’s Shoreview, Minnesota.
Shoreview, Minnesota. Yep, yep.
St. Cloud, well …
Your story and your dad’s too, what I love about these stories, these paths is they give [inaudible 00:11:28] to this notion, which it’s out there. In fact, it’s very prevalent, that one must decide on one’s major and that is a fraught decision because on that decision rests the rest of your life and career. That’s just not true.
So you start out as a chemistry major, but because you’re at a fine liberal arts college with some inspiring teachers, in this case, a teacher who wasn’t even, I gather, a full-time regular member of the faculty-
A Catholic nun. You get hooked on thinking about Christianity, Christian theology, and feminism. It’s just terrific. Classic liberal arts story.
When you were pursuing your doctorate at Claremont, did you have to specialize in a particular area of ministry?
Yeah, that’s a great question. So Claremont has long had the degree doctorate of ministry, but four years ago, they announced a new twist on the program, which was a doctor of ministry in spiritual renewal and contemplative practice and strategic leadership. So those are three of my favorite things to think about; I love thinking about and acting on spiritual renewal in the broadest sense of that inside of organizations, and contemplative practices such as gratitude practices, silent meditation, walking prayers, singing, chanting. Those kinds of things have been really important to me on my own spiritual journey. Then, strategic and organizational leadership is another area of passion for me, which is why I tend to do things like Gustavus that some might consider outside the bounds of my job description, but co-chairing the college’s strategic planning process, or right now, serving as special assistant for diversity, equity, or confusion. I love thinking about that intersection of, “How can we shop up as compassionate and courageous leaders, and really being transformational change to organizations and communities?”
So that’s really the area that the doctorate was focused on. The classes were built around those three core areas, in addition to electives. I took a class in inter-religious restorative justice pedagogies, which was really fascinating to look at. How do people across different traditions think about restorative justice and transformational change through the lens of healing and forgiveness, connection, and compassion, rather than, say, our criminal justice system which looks for ways to punish people who have done things wrong. I also took a really cool class on theology and mental health, which as you know, is a huge issue on college campuses and in our society at large. Asking the question of, “What are the ways in which religious and spiritual traditions can both help folks struggling with mental health issues, but also looking critically at the ways in which some of our traditions are not helpful and perhaps are even hurtful?”
What about, oh. Go ahead. Sorry.
No. So it’s just a broad range of topics, but the focus was really, if I were going to sum it up, compassionate strategic leadership for transformational change as the focus.
It sounds like a fantastic program. You’ve used the word “spiritual” several times, and I know we could do a whole episode just about this, but what does that word eman to you personally, and maybe also in your position as chaplain if you like? The word “spiritual.”
Yeah. Right, so it has three main dimensions, I think. One, and Michele Rusinko, who’s a wonderful dance faculty member at Gustavus, and I love to talk about this together, but to me, the essence of it is a sense of connection to something larger than yourself. For people who belong to a particular religious tradition, that could be God or a set of religious texts or an important historical figure, or a set of values that transcend an individual, but for others, it might be a sense of connection to the planet or the universe, or a particular community. That sense that “life is not just about me, and I am connected to something much bigger than myself that both requires me to bring my full self and requires me to transcend my own internal focus.” So, a connection to something larger than myself. That would be the first part.
The second part is cultivating a sense of presence. That’s really about being alive in the moment, being alive to one’s own self and paying attention to one’s own emotions, and then bringing that sense of presence into spaces where somebody finds themselves. That sense of presence, I think, is often cultivated through intentional, contemplative practices. There are so many in all of the world’s religious traditions, and then there are others that are not connected to a particular religion, and they’re all great at cultivating that sense of presence. Then the third part of spirituality, I think, is reflecting on a sense of meaning and purpose in one’s life, so that question of, “What gets me out of bed in the morning?”, or, “What kind of legacy do I want to leave?”, or, “How do I want to make an impact in my community today, and what gifts do I have to bring to that work? What talents, what perspectives, what experience?” Those are the three aspects of spirituality, I think, that are really important.
I think that’s so interesting. You didn’t mention God or believing in God as part of that, and so I think sometimes people conflate spirituality and religion or spirituality and faith. You also didn’t mention focus on the afterlife. No, focus on the present, being in the present, which for me as a historian means being attentive to what’s happening around us in the present and how the past informs it, but is that the case, that spirituality is not synonymous with faith or belief in God?
Right, and I think-
Not necessarily for you personally, but in general.
Right, yeah. I think especially if we’re going to return to higher ed chaplaincy as a field, I mean historically, that field is very Christian-centric. A lot of our liberal arts colleges in this country were founded by Protestants, and they had a Protestant chaplain, and all of that was centered around Protestant values and theology and rituals that came out of those respective Protestant traditions, but today, there’s been a lot of reflection done on, “Well what does 21st century chaplaincy look like in higher education?” It really is broadly about religious and spiritual life, and those two things are distinct but they’re interrelated, as you might imagine. If a person is religious, like for me, I’m Christian. I have a Christian spirituality. Somebody else might have Jewish spirituality or a Muslim spirituality or a Buddhist spirituality. Other people might have a spirituality that they’ve cultivated that’s not connected to one of those major religious traditions.
So that’s why it’s important to use both words together, “religion” and “spirituality.” In chaplaincy, our job is both to help students, primarily students but the campus as a whole, support people of different religious traditions in their practices that are important to them, and also, to nurture spirituality on campus in that broader sense that I talked about in terms of presence, meaning, purpose, and connecting to something larger than yourself. So I think both are really important, and higher ed chaplaincy is really moving to be more of a multi-faith religious field, and so a lot of schools are adding team members that are from different religious traditions. You even see humanist chaplains at some colleges and universities to acknowledge the fact that not everyone has a specific tradition that they’re connected with, and yet everyone is thinking about meaning and purpose and values, and showing up in the world as their full self.
So it’s been a cool time. I’ve really enjoyed being a college chaplain at this particular moment when there’s so much change in the field, and when there’s a clear need in our world to help people from different world views and traditions figure out how to relate to each other in ways that are healing and helpful rather than divisive.
Let’s pick up on what you’ve said because you really started to talk about your work at Gustavus as a chaplain. Is there such a thing as a typical day in your life as chaplain at Gustavus, or week? What are some of the typical things you do on any given day or week in your role as chaplain?
So one thing I love about the job is that every day is different, but that being said, there are some typical things too. At Gustavus, we have that 10 a.m. to 10:20 time set aside for daily Sabbath. So a typical day, when school’s in session, would include coming into the office, checking in with our team, our student employees, and getting everything ready for that 10 o’clock time. We have practices both in the chapel and in our Multifaith Center, as well as sometimes in the campus center or in Lund. So we’ve really tried over the last seven years to broaden what that time is about so that it really is a time for cultivating spiritual wellbeing and community connection, and there are religion-specific ways that people can do that, and there are non-religion specific ways that people can do that.
That is a big focus of the morning, and then after that, for me in my role as leading our team, tends to be a lot of meetings with different people on campus, including students. There’s always student interaction, whether that be a spiritual care one-on-one kind of conversation or a meeting with a group of students to build out some kind of religious group or plan an event, or support their ideas for what they want to be seeing in their own spiritual exploration on campus. There’s a lot of student leadership development work that I get to do, and I really enjoy seeing our students transform over the course of four years and become more confident in their own skills and values. I try to give students as many opportunities as possible to lead.
One of the things that kind of bugs me is when the chaplain, pastor, rabbi, or somebody becomes the main focal point of religious life in a community. Really, and this is something I learned in my first job in a Lutheran congregation in Stillwater. The job of the leader is to equip everyone else to do their ministry or to live out their callings. I love doing my work in that way, and I think doing it on a college campus provides lots of opportunities for empowering students and helping them discover their gifts and deepest longings and hopes for the future.
That’s really what I think teachers try to do as well, professors, any good teacher. I’ve been accused by students of being a preacher preaching rather than teaching. I used to play episcopal priest when I was little with my brother. We’d put on our robes, our little bathrobes as our vestments, and we loved to imitate this priest, Father [Ruphi 00:26:04] who had this onerous voice.
In any case, you mentioned restorative justice a while ago, and that, of course, brings to mind what’s happened here in Minneapolis and beyond Minneapolis, the murder of George Floyd by police on May 25th. I know our college, like others, has been responding in various ways to that event. A statement from the president, for example. Could you say a little bit more about what you’ve been up to with respect to those events?
Yeah. So, this is one of those cases where wearing multiple hats can be complex but also can come in handy. As chaplain, one of the things that we did is organize an interfaith community gathering for lament and support. We organized two of those, and of course in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, those had to be via Zoom, which was an interesting adaptation to our typical in-person vigils in the chapel or Multifaith Center or some outdoor space on campus, but trying to create space with our partners in the Center for Inclusive Excellence for the community to gather and to give voice to their laments and heartaches and frustrations, and just whatever needed to be said, and create a sacred container to hold that gathering. So as chaplain, that’s the kind of thing I’ve been up to.
As special assistant, I’ve been working behind the scenes to help the president and the cabinet figure out their response and craft written pieces, but also behind the scenes project management. “Okay, we said we’re going to do these things. Now how are we actually going to get them done?” I told President Bergman this recently, “I hope that I’m a compassionate agitator for change.”
I feel like my role is to prod and impress upon myself and others the urgency of the situation. We can’t just go about slow, incremental change, business as usual. This is not that moment. This is another kind of moment where we need to see quick change, decisive action that conveys a strong commitment to doing the work that needs to be done on our campus around anti-racism, inclusive excellence, social justice. Frankly, our students, they’re going to hold us accountable to that too. It’s an interesting balance of being an administrator. My heart is totally with the activists and the students and like, “Let’s make dramatic change and let’s do it fast. Let’s go. There’s so much to do,” and then as an administrator in higher ed, I also know change doesn’t happen fast usually. There are some good reasons for that, and there are some not-so-good reasons, and so trying to navigate that complexity of, “How do you get an institution with 150+ year history to change quickly in response to a moment that is demanding urgent action?”
You articulate the challenge really well, and I love that phrase “compassionate agitator.” We need that certainly, not only on campus but elsewhere.
You’ve also used the word “inclusive.” First of all, I should mention you mentioned President Bergman. That’s President Rebecca Bergman, president of Gustavus, and you used the word “inclusive.” I want to note just in passing that chapel at Gustavus is not required. It’s there. I’ve enjoyed attending. I don’t attend regularly, but I’ve attended and I’ve spoken in chapel and enjoyed that. I don’t recall if you were involved in creating the Multifaith Center, but I wonder if you could say a little bit about the Multifaith Center on campus, what that’s about, and then we can turn to the academy that you’re directing.
Yeah, great. Yes, I was involved in the Multifaith Center. So when I started at Gustavus seven years ago, there was an interfaith center in the campus center that was like a converted conference room. Not the best location, but at least it was something. So pretty early on in my time at Gustavus, there was planning or an intention to plan for a new multi-faith center when the Anderson Hall renovation was going to be funded and taking place. I, on behalf of our office, led the planning process for that space, which we included people from diverse religious backgrounds in the planning process to make sure that all the different traditions would feel comfortable utilizing whatever kind of space we created. So that resulted in decisions like, we’re not going put any permanent artwork in the space. It’s a very clean space; it’s white with big windows and beautiful woodwork, and it intentionally does not have any religion-specific symbolism in it.
From planning to actual dedication and use, that has been a very fun and rewarding project to work on on campus. One just little anecdote I remember after we had opened it, we had a group of Muslim students come in and see it for the first time. Just to see their reaction, because we have prayer washing stations built in for our Muslim community members to use before prayer. It’s a beautiful space. They just walked in and I could see the delight on their faces. One of them said, “You know, this space is so beautiful. It must’ve been really expensive to make, and that really makes me feel like the college wants me here and that I belong here.” To me, that’s inclusion. That’s what it looks like. It’s not an afterthought, it’s not an add-on. It’s like, “Nope. We’re spending money on this and it’s going to be beautiful, and it’s for you because we want you here.” So … that’s that project-
What about, and I agree: that’s an excellent definition of inclusion. Not just, “You’re here, great. We tolerate you,” but, “We’re committed to you, you’re part of the community, and we do what we can to ensure that.” What about the academy, which I find very interesting the connections between science and faith or science and religion. You embody that, obviously; you were a chemistry major, and it sounds like that’s one of the things that you liked about Claremont as well. In any case, what is this academy about? If you could do your elevator speech for it …?
Right. So the Gustavus Academy started five years ago through a generous grant from the Lilly Endowment. The request for proposal was for a high school youth theology institute, so inviting college campuses to create some kind of learning space for high school students to dig into their tradition. We thought, “Well Gustavus has such an amazing legacy with the Nobel Conference and our science programs, really even the connection between the chapel and the chaplain’s office and science on campus.” So we felt that was a strength of the college that we could build upon for the academy, and then there are several of us on campus that have personal passions and interests in that intersection. The academy really exists to bring high school students who are spiritually curious, intellectually curious engaged in their congregation or their faith community, and also are thinking they might pursue a career in a STEM-related field, or maybe they just love science. They don’t know what they’re going to do with it.
So we’re trying to find students who love both of those things, and bring them together on campus for a week-long summer experience. This year, we’re doing it virtually starting on Saturday, so we’ll see how that goes, but in a typical year, they would be on campus for a week-long immersive experience with nine of our Gustavus students who serve as mentors, and bringing in expert scientists and theologians, activists, ethicists, and giving those students an experience which for many of them is a first in their lives type of experience where they’re surrounded by peers, mentors, experts who also share that love of that intersection. We ask them in their applications to reflect on why they want to come, and a lot of them, sadly, still say, “I’ve never had anyone else in my life with whom I can talk about my dual passion for faith and science.” So when they come to the academy, it’s like that experience I had going to Claremont. They feel like, “Wow, I belong here. I’ve found my people. I’m not alone, I’m not weird. These two things can go together,” and then we help them develop a framework for vocational reflection for themselves.
As we started this conversation, it’s not a, “Well I’m going to be this. I’m going to be a biochemist 10 years from now” and that’s it, but we try to equip them with those tools for deeper reflection on their sense of purpose, so “What are they good at?”, “What do they care about?”, so that as they move through those different spaces of high school, faith community college, they understand that the life of purpose and meaning can be meandering, spontaneous, winding, and it can also bring together a lot of different things, like faith and science. So that’s what we’re trying to do there.
How do faith and science go together, in your thinking?
Yeah. Great question. Well one thing that we talk about at the academy is that both science and faith are motivated by that human capacity to wonder about our world. So any good scientist is thinking about questions that they wonder about, that they want to investigate, that they want to explore, that they want to research, that they want to know more about. The same is actually true in authentic faith. It’s like, there’s this sense of awe and wonder about the grandeur of the universe, the mystery of God’s presence beyond us and among us. So we try to focus on that core value of wonder as something that can bring the two together. Then for me personally, I mean there’s a lot of different models for how science and religion can interact. They can be independent pursuits that don’t get in each other’s way but they’re not in conflict, or there can be a healthy dialogue. Some people, and I would put myself in this category, long for more of a harmony of truth. That requires a philosophical agility that opens up a way of holding both science and genuine religious experience together in the same kind of world view framework.
So, that’s the piece of it that really energizes me. Not everyone in the science and Christian faith space want to take it that far, but that’s one of the things that Claremont School of Theology actually really specializes in, is that philosophical work that creates space for science to be science as it authentically is and for genuine religious expression.
That’s definitely true at Gustavus. I mean I didn’t know a whole lot about Gustavus [inaudible 00:40:57] before I applied for the job, but it’s one of the things that I enjoy about it. When I first was applying, researching the annual Nobel Conference focused around some scientific issue or problem, but the way that there’s that emphasis on faith and science not being mutually exclusive, and as you’re suggesting, there are different ways. One can think about how they go together. I love that emphasis on wonder, too. I think that what’s it means to be curious and what learning for life means, really. The name of this podcast is to have that sense of wonder. I find myself lately, since the pandemic, and what I would call the “war on science.” I find myself joking with people, “I’m praying for science and hoping for a miracle.” Maybe that’s how I’m putting the two together.
This has been so interesting. I wish we could continue, and we will continue … offline, so to speak, off mic, but thank you so much. You’re doing really interesting and important work, and you’ve given us a really good window on what it’s like to be a college chaplain on a liberal arts college campus, so thanks so much. We’ll see you back on campus, and good luck with the start of the academy on Saturday.
Thanks so much, Greg. It’s been a pleasure.
Great. Take care.
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