The Spiritual Life Project, Florida State University
The Spiritual Life Project (SLP) is an initiative at The Florida State University dedicated to encouraging meaning, purpose, and authenticity in the lives of college students. Established in 2009, the SLP is a focus group uniquely comprised of faculty, staff, and students who all have an integral part in the planning and programming of the project. Tura Magley spoke to Cadence Kidwell, convener of the Spiritual Life Project, on March 28, 2012, about the mission, history, and accomplishments of the FSU Spiritual Life Project.
The primary goal of the Spiritual Life Project is to develop students in achieving meaning, purpose, and authenticity in their lives through conversation and introspection. This initiative is directed toward fostering the growth of the college student in, quite possibly, “the most diverse setting they will be a part of in their lives” (Kidwell, 2012). The SLP reaches out to students in providing programs, physical spaces, and other opportunities to deepen their self-understanding and broaden their awareness of diverse perspectives on the Florida State University campus. Some of these opportunities include hosting student-centered interfaith panels and partnering with organizations to show films at the Student Life Cinema.
While the FSU Spiritual Life Project was formally established in 2009 by the Division of Student Affairs and the Office of the Provost, its roots have a deeper history. Cadence Kidwell, the current Spiritual Life Project convener, said that the idea sparked after a session at the 2006 Jon C. Dalton Institute on College Student Values. As a result Vice President for Student Affairs, Mary Coburn participated in the National Institute on Spirituality in Higher Education at UCLA and returned inspired after learning of the research on spirituality in higher education conducted by Alexander and Helen Astin. Coburn and her staff initiated a “Student Spirituality Brown Bag Series” in 2007. After several years of the brown bag discussions, Kidwell, alongside Bill Moeller and Tamara Bertrand Jones, began to develop a mission statement. Instrumental in the development was Jon C. Dalton, who assisted in the initial direction and focus of the Spiritual Life Project in the beginning stages through his guidance in work meetings and areas to consider in getting the program off the ground.
Here and Now
After Moeller retired in May 2010, Kidwell took over as convener and has been in the role ever since. As convener, she “makes space for this conversation” by “bringing together the ideas from students, faculty, and staff.” She oversees the Spiritual Life Project steering committee, which consists of four other university faculty and staff members who volunteer on this project aside from any other professional obligations: Jennifer Dascomb, Craig Filar, Laura Osteen, and Kathleen Shea Smith. Each brings a unique perspective to the SLP, which all relate to the central values of meaning, and authenticity.
Kidwell, who serves as the program director for Global Pathways Certificate and Exchanges, is interested in the “interfaith dialogue between students and faith identity as a driving force of some students’ cultural identity.” Other members of the steering committee are driven by the “leadership and service aspect that faith groups often provide,” the “possibility for continued community engagement when students learn about others and branch out of one’s own group” as well as “developing students’ purpose” through their academic majors and career paths.” While each of the committee members brings something from his or her own experience, each falls back on the mission of the Spiritual Life Project: developing meaning, purpose, and authenticity.
Even in its short history up to now, the Spiritual Life Project has already left a lasting mark on the Florida State University campus and students. Other than impacting students in panel discussions on interfaith cooperation and spirituality, a tangible success of the Spiritual Life Project is the meditation room located on the third floor of the Center for Global Engagement. The space was dedicated as an all-inclusive, non-denominational space for all students, faculty, and staff to take advantage of, with directions marked on each of the walls for those who pray or meditate facing a particular way. The only requirement is to “bring any religious texts to and from the room and not to leave them behind, as the room is used to respect all religions” and their beliefs.
Another program that has been implemented by the Spiritual Life Project has been the “Transformation through Teaching Awards.” Students are able to nominate faculty members who have “helped them develop their meaning, purpose, and authenticity.” At the awards ceremony held at the president’s house, students and faculty are able to engage in conversations pertaining to the intellectual, inspirational, and integrative impact faculty have on students. In its first year, there was an overwhelming response by the student body, with over 40 faculty members nominated.
Kidwell made the point that “the Spiritual Life Project has had many intangible accomplishments across the university campus, apparent in the thoughts and actions of the students who carry the message of meaning, purpose, and authenticity in their everyday actions.” When asked about the greatest accomplishment she has witnessed, Kidwell recalled a Spiritual Life Project event that inspired action amongst two religious groups on campus:
A member of the Baptist Collegiate Ministry came to a meeting to talk about his experience being a practicing Baptist Christian. Although Baptist Christianity may be a dominant religion in this region of the country, the SLP is committed to educating others on all faiths because there is always an opportunity to learn. At that time, a member of the Muslim Student Association was attending the meeting and learned about things that he didn’t know and had some misconceptions broken down. After that meeting, further conversation between the two men eventually inspired the Baptist Collegiate Ministry to take a group of students to a mosque and share in the practices of Islam. This event of sharing a spiritual space with another faith is the perfect example of what the Spiritual Life Project aims to do—break down barriers through conversation.
Looking to the Future
The primary focus of the Spiritual Life Project’s future is centered on the development of a “sustainable student group” that will take a hands-on approach to creating programs geared toward the greater population of students at FSU. In the fall 2012 semester, the initiative will introduce a team of student interns, which will focus on publicizing, programming, and spacing for the SLP with assistance and supervision by the steering committee. In this transition, Kidwell hopes that it will provide an opportunity for students to become even more engaged and empowered by the conversation of meaning, authenticity, and purpose the Spiritual Life Project strives to develop among the entire student population at Florida State University.
Kidwell, C. (2012, March 28). Personal Interview.