As my first quarter of graduate school approaches a close, I have started to reflect on my overall experience. I always look for themes across a set period of time because it seems that my life works that way. Professionally, this quarter has been about deepening my faith and learning how to facilitate spiritual development and/or meaning making (I use these terms interchangeably because for me, my spirituality is how I make meaning) among students. When I think of my undergraduate experience, there were always those deep philosophical questions lingering in my mind. You know, those “universal” questions that all human beings think about in some way at some (or multiple) point in their lives. In an essay, Jon Dalton states that the deepest questions in life are spiritual and they are about the search for ultimate purposes and enduring truths. He goes further to describe them as deeply personal questions that we must each answer in our own way, such as : Why am I here? What is worth living for? How can I be for myself and also for others? Whom and what do I serve? and What is it that I love above all else? I would personally add questions such as What am I passionate about? What’s special about me? and What do I have to offer the world?
Although I have come to answer these questions for myself, I am not naive enough to think that I was the only one in undergrad on the brink of losing it while trying to find the answers. Knowing the significance of my spiritual journey (i.e. my responses to these questions), I have become extremely interested in the role of spirituality in student affairs. I have come across recent research that argues that spiritual development is a missing piece of student affairs which contradicts its mission to support the holistic development of students. From what I’ve experienced, I agree. According to the Higher Education Research Institute, this issue is of particular significance now that current students are expecting their institutions to consider meaning making as part of their college experience.
This issue has been particularly challenging for me as a GA who works with juniors, seniors and some graduate students who are in the midst of tackling these questions. In my Collegium, I am constantly overhearing and engaging in conversations around meaning making. The most common question I’m hearing: What’s the point? This is usually preceded by a discussion of current world affairs.
This quarter I have been personally engaging with the question: how prepared are student affairs professionals in facilitating questions around meaning making? I’ve made this question the center piece of my work in two of my courses and have a list of books I plan to read in order to learn more about the process of spiritual development. With such chaos happening in the world and in higher education, I don’t think we can continue to effectively support students without engaging with these very big questions. How do we help students understand and make meaning of the complexities of crises such as the one at Penn State or the student deaths at SU? How do we help students use their unique gifts and abilities to positively impact a world that so desperately needs new ideas?
I have been blessed to have my foundation for meaning making and you may have too. However, my question still remains: how do we prepare ourselves to facilitate spiritual development among students? With the world as chaotic, quickly changing and uncertain as it is, students may need our spiritual support more than ever before. I pray that I’ll be able to meet the need.