Sorry, We Don’t Talk About That Here

Many of us who are student affairs practitioners have spent the last few years leaning into uncomfortable dialogue around issues of racial, gender, and sexual inequity on our campuses. We have attended conferences, workshops, and professional development meetings aimed at providing us with the tools needed to facilitate hard conversations with our colleagues and students. Our end goal is always the same: to make welcoming, productive environments for all our students. But we are missing a crucial element if we really do want to increase our students’ sense of belonging and foster their personal development during their time on our college campuses. We are missing dialogue about spirituality and religion.

In moments when the whole world seems to be on fire, as with the COVID-19 crisis we are now experiencing, our students have found themselves in the throes of anxiety-inducing situations. While campus counseling services have scrambled to move their operations online and remain determined to meet the needs of our students whose lives have been upended, the demand has proven to be too great. Our students are seeking additional supports, and they are coming to us. We are charged with thinking critically and strategically about the best ways to engage in this moment. If we approach this crisis without recognizing that our students’ mental and emotional turmoil may be tied up with overwhelming questions about mortality, faith, or the existence of God, then we are missing the mark.

Gretchen Curry

For those of us at public institutions where the avoidance of spirituality is all too commonplace, what better time than a pandemic to muster up the courage to engage in these hard questions with our students for the first time? Whether we have pushed spirituality aside for fear of disapproval for speaking about controversial subject matter, or for worry that any discussion of spirituality will be confused with an intent to proselytize, our eagerness to disengage does our students a great disservice. Their need for spiritual guidance should outweigh our desire to leave the feathers unruffled.

A major 2003 study of 5,550 students from 39 colleges and universities throughout the United States revealed that 44% of the sample size experienc

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