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Spirituality and Campus Life: A New Book for College Administrators

 Posted Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Margaret A. Jablonski, Editor

Note: The following essay is adapted from the Editor’s Notes of this forthcoming volume in the Jossey-Bass series entitled New Directions for Student Services.

Why publish a monograph on spirituality and campus life? Student affairs and student affairs preparation programs have been reluctant to address spirituality as connected to student development or to the programs and services on a college campus. The purpose of this monograph is to provide student affairs professionals and others on college campuses with information and guidance about including spirituality in student life programs, and in the curriculum of preparation programs for professionals in student affairs. As Love and Talbot (1999) argue, “…student affairs professionals must understand the role that such values as faith, hope, and love play in the structure and persistence of communities, in the construction of knowledge, in the understanding of truth, and in developmental processes of students.”

During the past two hundred years, public higher education has maintained a separation of “church and state.” By the end of the nineteenth century, religion largely had disappeared from public schools. Although most public and private colleges were founded in conjunction with a particular denomination (mostly protestant, Catholic, and Jewish), in the past century there has been a marked move away from the “trappings” of organized religion on college campuses. In the twentieth century, modern science took center stage, featuring research that created new ways of understanding life, organizations, and human nature. No longer was religion needed to explain the nature or order of the world.

The Supreme Court has said that public education must be neutral in matters of religion (not favoring one religion over another) but neither can it favor non-religion over religion. In the 1947 Everson ruling, Justice Black said, “State power is no more to be used so as to handicap religions than it is to favor them.” Similarly, in Abington v. Schemp (1963) Justice Clark wrote in the majority opinion that public schools cannot favor “those who believe in no religion over those who do believe.” However, there has been an emphasis on neutrality, which has led to marginalization or exclusion. Alan Wolfe (1997), a leading scholar on religion and higher education says “…today we risk a different kind of homogenization-we have become so secular that we leave little room for religious expression. In anything, the secular version of the university has been such a success that its way of doing business constitutes a new orthodoxy.”

The 1960s and 1970s saw students who were anti-establishment, therefore, they were not interested in or openly hostile to religion. Many explored alternative forms of spirituality, seeking personal growth and enrichment from meditation, Buddhism, or nature based religions. The 1980s brought the pursuit of materialism as the central value for many students. In the last decade, however, there has been a resurgence in spiritual exploration and religion. Go into any bookstore and check the best seller listing and you will find numerous books in the past few years with words such as “spirit” and “soul” and even “spiritual intelligence” in the titles. Then find the section on religion/spirituality and you will find hundreds of books written in the past decade that focus on the meaning of life, human nature, relationships, and so on, all from a spiritual perspective. In the presidential race of 2000 the two candidates proclaimed themselves to be born again Christians, and a vice presidential candidate who practiced and spoke about his Jewish faith.

Some of the influence of spirituality has been seen in the curriculum of some departments of education, sociology, psychology, and business, particularly at the graduate level. Parker Palmer has written extensively about teaching and learning from the inside out, with spirituality as central to learning. His works are cited regularly in education courses. Ken Blanchard, the “one-minute manager” guru more recently has turned to infusing values, principles, and beliefs into leadership and the organization. Margaret Wheatley also has explored leadership and spirituality and principles of organizational development as connected to both science and spirituality.

Today, many students are coming to college as believers in some faith, and already participating in practices such as community service, mediation, or yoga, seeking answers to questions about one’s purpose, mission, and values. A liberal education provides for exposure to various traditions, ways of thinking, and practices. As we are beginning to add the spiritual perspective to various fields of inquiry and out-of-the-classroom experiences, student affairs professionals will need to become more inclusive of spirituality in all the programs and services we provide.

Student affairs embodies many principles of a liberal education, including the education of the whole person. In one of the original founding documents of the profession, the Student Personnel Point of View (1937), spiritual development explicitly is included with occupational, intellectual and other forms of human development. Many of our models of student development theory also address issues of values, morals, and ethical development. During the past decade, reviews of student affairs programs have emphasized the creation of purposeful models that address the growth and development of student from a holistic perspective. Many of our student life programs use a wellness model for program design that includes a spiritual dimension. Spirituality is pervading the campus and student affairs professionals must respond.

Summary of Chapters

This monograph groups together chapters that relate to a particular aspect of students affairs: students (both undergraduate and in the preparation programs); organizational life; theory and practice of leadership and staff development; and resources for continued exploration.

In Chapter One, Patrick Love examines student development theory and the place for spiritual development within them. He considers the work of Sharon Parks as the centerpiece upon which his chapter is grounded. Parks emphasizes the interrelatedness of cognitive development with social and cultural influences including religion and spiritual growth. Love explores forms of knowing, forms of dependence and forms of community from adolescent through young adult. Love offers several implications for student affairs practice including creating mentoring communities and other student life programs that explicitly address spiritual development.

In Chapter Two, Jon Dalton looks at how students explore the questions of purpose and truth. He describes the searching that ultimately makes connections with one’s life purpose-a calling or a career. He describes students as engaged with ethical and spiritual questions through community service, campus leadership, and other examples. Dalton encourages other student life professional to provide structured opportunities for students to examine spiritual aspects of “big questions” such as commitments, responsibilities, and moral decisions.

In Chapter Three, Kathleen Manning discusses recent developments concerning the infusion of “soul” into the workplace, including college campus environments. She uses popular writers such as Bolman and Deal to consider issues of spirituality in organizational theory and student affairs practice. Manning outlines places in student affairs administration where soul and spirit are emerging including student leadership, service learning, campus traditions, and orientation programs.

In Chapter Four, Tom Clark outlines the particular challenges student affairs professionals face in dealing with spiritual life on college campuses. He provides an overview of how higher education became secularized, with neutrality leading to marginalization of anything resembling organized religion. He offers some advice for student affairs staff to enable discussion of spiritual issues on all campuses, public and private.

In Chapter Five, Kathleen Allen and Gar Kellom share with us their perspectives on leadership, staff development, and organizational design to incorporate aspects of spirit into student affairs. They write from years of experience leading staff development programs and trying new ways of managing and leading staffs. They offer suggestions for creating an organization that supports spiritual work, including changing the environment, designing reasonable jobs, and shifting criteria for performance evaluation. They provide several practical suggestions for staff development activities for the student affair staff.

In Chapter Six, Carney Strange examines preparing graduate students to serve in the field of student affairs. Strange asserts that we consider curricular and out-of-classroom experiences that will provide students with the opportunity to explore their learning in a spiritual context. Strange discusses how students make meaning of their experience and the need to create an environment that supports exploration of spiritual questions. He suggests that student affairs preparation programs include rites and rituals that connect students to one another and the institution. He provides practical examples for exploring differences, mentoring students, examining the “big questions,” and other aspects of graduate education.

In Chapter Seven, Alicia Fedelina Chavez explores a scholar-practitioner’s perspective on incorporating spiritual principles into everyday student affairs practice. Writing from a Native American and Spanish Catholic heritage, Chavez outlines ten guiding principles for her life, which she connects with her roles as a college administrator and faculty member. Chavez discusses her struggle to embody compassion, maintain connectedness, live a life of purposeful reflection, hold relationships sacred, steward, live simply and in balance, radiate hopefulness, and give thanks within a higher education context. She discusses ways in which to live in congruence with one’s spiritual and philosophical worldview while developing abilities to work across differences in multicultural communities.

Chapter Eight provides the reader with numerous resources for further exploration of spirt at work and in education: books, articles, web sites, conferences, retreat centers, and other resources are briefly explained. Although not comprehensive, the resources here represent a variety of perspectives and traditions.