Op-Ed: Swarthmore Hillel Expresses Importance of Muslim Student Advisor, Interfaith Community

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Members of Swarthmore Hillel Read Their Letter of Support Aloud

Dear Dean Rodriguez,

Swarthmore Hillel implores you to create and maintain the position of Muslim Student Advisor at Swarthmore College.

As another religious group at Swarthmore, a predominantly secular campus, we cannot stress enough the importance of having a religious advisor to support the religious lives of students as they struggle through new environments, rigorous classes, and being on our own for the first time. We at Hillel have benefited immensely from our advisor Rabbi Kelilah Miller for the past two years and from advisors before her. Our advisors have led services, helped us organize events, been a resource for religious questions, and mentored individual students on matters both personal and spiritual.

Being a person with a faith background, or really any facet of one’s identity, that is very much in the minority in both the country and at Swarthmore, is an incredibly profound experience. Having a faith leader who understands the complex intersections of different identities, especially for people who count a religion as part of their identity, is essential to guide students through the life-long process of navigating this experience.

College is one of the first times that many people experience upheaval and distress and illness, in particular without the support of previously existing networks of family and friends. Faith and a faith community can provide a support system to help survive these experiences of distress and change. Especially for those for whom faith is integral to their lives, faith-based support systems can be one of the most powerful ways to get through and grow through a tumultuous time. Many religions have frameworks in place to understand and cope with loss, grief, and change. Having supportive adults who understand these rituals and can support students in accessing them is really useful.

Many religions stress the importance of integrating joy, pleasure, and gratitude in the everyday, intertwined with more serious contemplation and ritual. Making time for positivity is important for building resilient individuals and communities who have the skills to navigate the inevitable ups and downs of everyday life with grace and perspective. Especially for Swarthmore students, whose academics sometimes overshadow the commitments that we have to ourselves and our wellness, it’s important to consciously make time for joy and celebration.

Religious advisors’ duties fully encompass meeting and speaking with students about emotional and personal issues. While CAPS is certainly a resource for students, it is notoriously understaffed. The addition of trained professionals to offer both skilled and compassionate counsel is absolutely invaluable to maintain student wellness. The religious advisors act as a strong second vanguard to CAPS and various students’ mentors, from RAs to SAMs.

Having an advisor specific to a faith community is also helpful in terms of connecting with broader networks in Philadelphia of synogogues, churches, mosques, etc. – a task that can only really be accomplished by an individual with connections both on campus and off, a role that religious advisors fill solely and admirably.

In particular, our advisor has been incredibly supportive in developing interfaith events and programming on campus. We’ve benefited deeply from the support Kelilah has provided at interfaith events this year and recognize that those events would not have been possible without the presence of religious advisors of other faiths. More than a dozen students showed up to the recent interfaith text study, which featured texts selected by three  religious advisors from the three Abrahamic religions. We have also hosted the successful Interfaith Storytime events, which have featured dozens of student storytellers of a wide variety of faiths, and up to 50 audience members at a time. This event, in particular, could not have occurred without the voices of Muslim students, supported and encouraged by their advisor. In addition, four students and three religious advisors of different faith backgrounds attended an interfaith youth leadership conference in Atlanta, Georgia in January. Everyone on the trip, including Hillel’s student Interfaith Coordinator, benefited hugely from this opportunity, and the connections developed on this trip would again not have been possible without strong representation from four different faiths.

We can’t imagine creating as robust and lively a Jewish community as we have without the support of Kelilah. We think that the Islamic Society should have the same opportunity to benefit from all the support a religious advisor would offer.

Swarthmore’s diverse faith-based communities currently contain incredible potential for continued growth and would benefit immensely from the involvement of a Muslim mentor on campus, who would help cultivate understanding and connections among Swarthmore’s interfaith community. Knowing that Muslims and Jews are too often engaged in conflict or portrayed as being inherently at odds, we think it’s incredibly valuable to have constructive conversations between these two faith-based communities. In Judaism, the Hebrew phrase “tikkun olam” means repairing or healing the world, and we believe that interactions and understanding between the Jewish and Muslim communities on campus, specifically, would be a significant step in furthering this vision.

To us, the position of Muslim Student Advisor is essential to building the kind of respectful and inclusive community we envision existing here at Swarthmore.


Swarthmore Hillel

1 Comment

  1. As a (former) swattie, the fact that the Jewish student group would argue strongly for the benefit of the campus Muslim community makes perfect sense. From the point of view of the rest of the world, however, this is actually pretty special. Once again, I find myself incredibly proud to be associated, however loosely, with Swarthmore and its students.

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