The College has recently approved the addition of the part-time position for a Muslim chaplain. This decision was a result of growing demands from the College community for a position to provide religious guidance to Muslims at the College, plan and produce programs on Islam and contribute to inter-religious dialogues on campus. A search committee comprised of students, faculty and staff will work to fill the position. The decision is expected to be made in the early weeks of summer, although the process itself is not “governed by a deadline,” said Rick Spalding, chaplain to the College.
The lack of a Muslim chaplain has been a long-standing issue for many Muslim students on campus who felt that their religious needs were not being fully met by the College.
“For the past four or five years, I’ve been encouraging the dean of the College to look forward into time when the College would hire a Muslim chaplain,” Spalding said. “Muslim students, of course, have been advocating tirelessly for this step as well.”
Concrete action that has led to the recent decision, however, started over this past summer. In addition to drafting a proposal with the help of the chaplain’s office, the Multicultural Center and other faculty and staff, the Muslim Students Union (MSU) undertook efforts to raise awareness on this issue through a petition, Record articles and word-of-mouth. Other student groups on campus, such as the Minority Coalition and Williams College Jewish Association, offered their help as well, citing through individual petitions and letters reasons why a Muslim chaplain would also benefit them.
“We had many, many clubs, committees, academic departments and faculty write letters to Dean Bolton illustrating that the need for a Muslim chaplain was not specific to the Muslim population on campus,” MSU member Mustafa Saadi ’12 said.
Although the official job description for the new position is still being determined by the chaplain’s office, the dean of the College and the MSU, it is certain that the Muslim chaplain’s role will be to serve not just the Muslim population on campus, but also the general College community. The Muslim chaplain will be expected to lead Friday prayers, provide religious support and counseling to Muslim students on campus, represent the Muslim community at inter-faith events and help contribute to the College community’s better understanding of Islam. The chaplain will also facilitate community service opportunities that traditionally involve participation of chaplains.
“We hope the chaplain will be able to answer questions anyone on campus has about Islam, as it is so often a misconstrued, misunderstood religion,” MSU member Yasmine Goelzer ’13 said.
According to Spalding, a selection committee of students, faculty and staff will “go to work almost immediately” to determine who will best serve the College community. The committee will first have discussions with student groups related to the position to understand what kind of qualifications those groups are hoping to see in the new chaplain.
In order to attract a strong pool of applicants, the announcement of the opening will be circulated as much as possible through means such as the list of available openings on the College website. The College additionally plans to conduct a thorough search to fill the position.
Spalding was not unduly optimistic about the search process, however. “Searches like this usually take at least several months,” Spalding said. “I hope we’ll be lucky and this one will go swiftly and smoothly, but we’re not going to rush; we’re going to look carefully and thoroughly until we find someone who is right for this community and our needs,” he continued.
“The search process will be governed by our conviction that we’ve found the right person for our position and our community,” Spalding said.