Hire a Secular Chaplain at USC
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Dear President Nikias, Provost Quick, Dean Soni, and Vice President Carry,
As members and alumni of USC’s Secular Student Fellowship, together with Trojan parents, professors and staff members, classmates, donors and friends around the world, we heartily applaud the formation of USC’s new Office of Campus Wellness and Crisis Intervention and affirm your commitment to promote a more mindful, compassionate, and healthy campus. We also take seriously your reminder that such efforts are ultimately all of our responsibility, which is why we hereby call on you to boldly take one more step to ensure the well-being of the Trojan Family.
As Dean of Religious Life, Dr. Soni oversees more than 50 religious directors from many faith traditions who offer community-building, positive inspiration, moral support, and pastoral care to USC’s traditionally religious student population under the auspices of organizations like USC Hillel and the Caruso Catholic Center. In order to address the similar needs of its increasingly secular student body, we strongly believe the university itself should officially employ a secular chaplain to proactively engage and nurture those students - and especially incoming freshman - in defining their personal and social values, finding fellowship and developing meaningful relationships, and more carefully considering life’s ultimate questions in the context of their studies and career decisions.
As you know, USC has already benefitted from an independently-funded three-year trial of the kind of position we envision, in the person of humanist chaplain Bart Campolo. With Dean Soni’s help, Bart became a highly visible moral presence on campus, established USC’s strong and growing Secular Student Fellowship, and positively impacted the lives of countless students, many of whom reached out for his support and guidance in the midst of personal crises. Bart also guest lectured in a wide variety of classes, participated in numerous panel discussions and public ceremonies, and garnered vast local, national, and international acclaim for his work at USC, including a book published by Harper Collins, two upcoming documentary films, and feature stories in The New York Times Magazine, The Associated Press, National Public Radio, The BBC and, of course, The Daily Trojan. For all these reasons, we strongly suggest using Bart’s friendly, positive approach as your model in developing this new position.
As mental, physical, and emotional pressures on students increase, and fewer and fewer of those students identify as traditionally religious, it is only a matter of time before one of this country’s great research universities musters enough foresight and courage to find funding for its first official secular chaplaincy. We are convinced that pioneering institution should be the University of Southern California, and we respectfully urge you to be the leaders who make it so.
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