Residence hall chaplain program in works

Steven Harbaugh

The project has been on the drawing board for more than 10 years and now it’s finally nearing approval — with possible implementation by Fall 2005. The residence hall chaplaincy program, organized by the Campus Ministry Organization and Greg Jarvie, dean of students, will be voted on by the end of the year after some revision.

The chaplaincy program would designate approximately eight religious specialists in a variety of areas: substance abuse, relationships, crisis intervention, suicide, sexuality, eating disorders, dating and hosting international students. These specialists would then provide support to the residence hall community through counseling, programming and communication on an as-needed basis, as recommended by a counselor, psychologist or residence hall director.

So, for instance, if a student sees a counselor and mentions he or she is Catholic and has a problem with an eating disorder, the counselor can make a recommendation for a chaplain if the religion and specific area of expertise matches. The counselor would then provide the student with a biography, phone number and e-mail to contact the chaplain.

But for instance, if the student is pagan and the assigned religious expert for a topic like sexuality is from a Catholic background that might not mesh with the student’s philosophy, that student would be recommended elsewhere.

It is important to note, Jarvie said, that this is still concordant with the separation of church and state.

“We are not looking for ministers to go into halls and solicit their religion,” he said. “The program is based on chaplains assisting students with life issues.

“It is important to note we would never mandate that a student would have to go see these people. This is simply a resource for students that would choose to use it.”

The students will also be informed that the religious specialists are not professional counselors — just someone to talk to if they choose to make contact with the specialist.

The specialist must be affiliated with an area church and be sponsored by that church. There will be a $30 fee to be a chaplain per year, but the chaplains are not paid because it is strictly on a volunteer basis.

Valid credentials, but not necessarily licenses, will be needed to designate someone as a chaplain, according to James Geisey, chairman of the Baha’i assembly in Kent and the head of the chaplaincy program committee.

When the most recent revised form of the chaplaincy program (“pretty close to the finalized form,” according to Geisey) was presented at a Campus Ministry Organization meeting, a licensed counselor in attendance objected to the fact that specialists did not have to have licenses.

“The only comment I heard that was really negative was the licensed counselor saying there should be licenses. But I think since it’s spiritual, it shouldn’t be an issue,” Geisey said.

Jarvie said the chaplaincy program would still need to be approved by Residence Services, and there is the potential for more revisions if problems are encountered.

Chaplains would also undergo a training session before each school year, Jarvie said.

The program will encourage dialogue between groups and encourage various religions have more respect for one another, Geisey said.

“Basically the university is state-oriented, but it has no spiritual foundation,” he said. “We feel that in order to retain students, they should be connected to a spiritual foundation.”

Once the residence halls and the Campus Ministry Organization approve the chaplaincy program, the final approval will be the signature of Pete Goldsmith, vice president of Enrollment Management and Student Affairs

Contact religion and culture reporter Steven Harbaugh at [email protected].