KC Spotlight - Spirituality and Religion in Higher Education

Nic Babarskis, NASPA IV-W Spirituality and Religion Knowledge Community Representative

March 30, 2017

Could the values and beliefs we highlight as being different from our peers or others in our community be a source of unity and not a source of division? How does spiritual or secular belief intersect with other identities on campus? Should we care about where these intersections may exist. I have been reflecting on these questions a lot since taking on the role of Region IV - West Knowledge Community representative for the Spirituality and Religion in Higher Education role. While I have been personally grappling with these questions, finding answers may also hold significant relevance for many college campuses across the nation today.

My family background has given me a keen interest in how “belief” shapes values and character development. I spent my childhood in Indonesia where my parents worked with a christian nonprofit organization to provide medicine, food, and infrastructure for indigenous groups. My family identified openly as Christian in the largest Muslim country on earth. This provided me with ample opportunities to witness cultural customs that differed greatly from my day-to-day life. My time in Indonesia also gave me an astute understanding that while social groups can hold differing spiritual beliefs, there is always ample room to find common ground and shared understandings of the common good.

The mission of the Spirituality and Religion in Higher Education (SRHE) knowledge community is to enhance and contribute to the conversations about spirituality in higher education across all types of post secondary institutions. The topic of spirituality and religious identity has taken on new salience in light of current events within the United States. There has been a documented rise in hate crimes against Muslim identifying individuals within the United States since November 2016.[1] I work at the University of Kansas and within days of the election students on our campus who wear hijabs were experiencing targeted discrimination and hate speech. Our campus rallied to support our Muslim students[2], but the need for student services administrators to be aware of the intersection of religious or spiritual identity and discrimination was clear. There are ways to foster dialogue around different religious or spiritual beliefs that builds unity and shared commitments to advocacy for all students.

While not the only topic discussed, many presentations and dialogues associated with the SRHE Knowledge Community at NASPA 17 focused on interfaith dialogue as a means of building greater campus support for marginalized identities. Several of these conversations involved variations on the work done by organizations like Interfaith Youth Corps (IFYC) which works to build appreciation for religious pluralism and interfaith cooperation[3]. To truly build welcoming campus communities for all our students, campuses will need to find spaces and opportunities for programs and activities like those fostered by IFYC.

Helping students find common ground begins with understanding how a student’s most salient identities inform their values. Gaining knowledge about the spiritual or secular beliefs they hold can help campus leaders learn how best to support and empower students to advocate for their needs. The Spirituality and Religion in Higher Education Knowledge community provides numerous opportunities to learn about how belief informs student life. If you are interested in engaging conversations around these topics I would encourage you to reach out to me! Additionally, I would encourage you to follow our Facebook page[4], and consider attending the upcoming NASPA Religious, Secular, and Spiritual Identities Convergence[5]. The purpose of this convergence  is intended to spark thoughtful conversation, strategic action, and enhancement of professional practice towards creating more socially just and inclusive campus environments that support religious, secular, and spiritual exploration and practice in our communities.

Nic Babarskis is the Knowledge Community Representative for the Spirtuality and Religion in Higher Education Knowledge Community (SRHE KC). For more information about this KC please contact Nic at [email protected].

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