Religious programming slows after director leaves

Part-time advisors of religious groups on campus assumed more responsibilities to maintain the Center for Spiritual Life following the resignation of former Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and Campus Chaplain Harrison Blum.

Blum resigned on Sept. 21 for a similar role at Amherst College.

Catholic Chaplain and Newman Club Advisor Kristelle Angelli said much of Blum’s programming for the Center for Spiritual Life like weekly guided meditations went on hold after he left.

Freshman Leah Thomas, who identifies as Jewish, said she received frequent emails from the Center for Spiritual Life over the summer urging her to become involved on campus. She said she looked forward to becoming immersed in a new community of Jewish students.

Thomas said the outreach seemed to stop after arriving at Emerson.

“I’ve noticed that communication has gone down since the director has been gone,” Thomas said. “There hasn’t really been emails about events.”

Angelli said she, Hillel Advisor Jake Freedman, and Protestant Chaplain Brian Indrelie continue to do what they can to provide support for all religious students.

Angelli said while she and other chaplains can’t put on services for students outside of their respective religions, they’re available to answer questions and offer support for the time being.

Angelli, Freedman, and Indrelie serve as part-time advisors who work around 15 hours a week. Sometimes the office stands empty, according to Angelli. 

“We’re currently trying to keep whatever we can going so it doesn’t all collapse,” Angelli said.

Angelli said she completes administrative tasks a director would normally handle like coordinating office hours, setting the agenda for weekly staff meetings, and answering phones and the spiritual life email.

She said Blum handled a lot of programming for Buddhist students and programming will hopefully continue once Emerson hires a new director.

The college also hired junior Ann Zhang, the Student Government Association Spiritual Life Commissioner, as a student employee for the Center for Spiritual Life to keep social media and communication running effectively.

Zhang was not available for comment before the time of publication.

Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Sharon Duffy handles the hiring process for a new director. Duffy assembled a search committee of students, faculty, and staff to review applicants and help with the decision making.

The committee comprises representatives of campus organizations, people who worked with the Center for Spiritual Life, religious students, and even non-religious students, according to Duffy.

“We want a director who is going to meet all the needs of the community,” Duffy said.

Duffy said she received 85 applications after she first posted the job position to Emerson’s human resources site in September. Duffy chose ten applicants for a preliminary interview with the help of the search committee. Duffy and the committee chose four applicants from the interview to visit the campus within the next two weeks.

This week the applicants will meet with the search committee and Vice President and Dean of Campus Life James Hoppe, have lunch with students from spiritual organizations and members of SGA, and complete an open forum presentation for community feedback, Duffy said.

The presentations—open to students, faculty, and staff—begin on Nov. 7 and end on Nov. 15, Duffy wrote in an email to Emerson.

“The goal is to make an offer right after Thanksgiving, with a start date in January,” Duffy said in an interview.

Duffy and the rest of the members of the Center for Spiritual Life said they want a director with an understanding of the campus culture who brings new skills and knowledge to the school.

“There is only one Harrison, and it took over a year to find him,” Duffy said. “As motivated as I am to find someone to fill this position, I’m not going to settle.”

Duffy said the search will continue for more applicants if she and the search committee don’t deem one of the four candidates the best fit.

“Harrison had a depth and breadth of world religion, and we want to find someone who can support students the same way,” Duffy said.

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