This past August, Lawrence University received a generous donation from Tom Hurvis to honor his wife Julie Esch Hurvis and to establish a new position at Lawrence: dean of religious and spiritual life. Next week, a committee will begin the search to put someone in place for the 2016-17 academic year. Lawrence has also hired an independent search firm to help attain a diverse mix of applicants.
“We have wanted this for more than seven years,” said Vice President for Student Affairs Nancy Truesdell. “We have always had a desire to complete the whole picture of students’ wellness, and a part of that is their identity which is wrapped up in their spiritual ideas and participation in social justice,” Truesdell said. The impetus for this position was based on a comparison of similar colleges and universities, only two of which did not have this position.
Deans of religious and spiritual life on other campuses are not exclusively for religious or faith-based students. They are intended to be leaders on campus that are very oriented towards equity and social justice—values that both secular and religious or spiritual individuals may be interested in. This person will also help the college heal from tragedy or aid in the celebration of success.
Truesdell expressed the importance of this person in particular regard to the racial issues currently happening on campus. Social justice issues and volunteerism are as equally important in the position as religion. The position will certainly be a resource for students who are faith-based, but also for those students who want to be part of a just and fair atmosphere. It is a gap many students have noticed. “On other campuses, they are a powerful presence, and their personality and role in the atmosphere of each institution is vital,” added Truesdell.
Many students have communicated confusion about this position’s purpose. Truesdell describes it as a combination of a member of the senior administration and a counselor. While this person could likely serve as a counselor, they would also be involved in much broader and programmatic areas like meditation, film series or book talks. They would work outside of the classroom in activities for faith-based students. Examples include providing transportation to synagogues for interested students, or providing arenas for students to explore contemplation and mindfulness.