Restructured in 1993, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL) has since served as a resource for students to engage in spiritual or faith-based events and practices throughout college. With over 12 different student groups and a Religious and Spiritual Life team composed of advisors and chaplains, ORSL offers diverse programs, discussions and ceremonies on campus. In addition to these opportunities, there are many ways students enrich their intellectual, religious and spiritual experiences by participating in religious events off campus.
The Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life, Tiffany Steinwert, explained that one of her main roles on campus is to ensure that members of the Wellesley community have access to a variety of religious and spiritual practices and ceremonies.
In explaining her responsibilities, she said, “I am charged with assuring religious access to all on campus. This means both providing on-campus religious services, rituals and observances, as well as connecting students to religious and spiritual communities of their choice that may not exist on campus.”
She also added, “ORSL works with students from traditions not represented by chaplaincies to assist them in attending services or observing particular traditions. When needed, I also work with individual students to connect them to off-campus communities of faith.”
While some students choose to participate individually in services off campus, others attend these events as part of a group of other Wellesley students.
Angie Meli ’17, a student leader for the organization Wellesley Christians on Campus, explained that she and other students attend church gatherings at the Church in Newton on Sunday mornings. They also partake in Friday night home gatherings, where they have dinner with local families that are a part of this church.
For Meli, attending services off campus and sharing a meal with local families not only offers her the opportunity to engage in her faith but also to connect with other people of different ages within the religious community.
“It feels so good to be in a home and to form close relationships with people of different ages,” said Meli. “I enjoy being around people who have had so many different experiences.”
She also added that the Friday home gatherings serve as an opportunity for her and other students to receive mentorship and advice in a welcoming, home setting.
“I feel like the home gatherings are a great time for us college students to voice our questions and concerns about life and decisions, and to be around people who care about us and also have the wisdom and experience to help answer our questions and to listen to our concerns with love and care,” she said.
Additionally, some Wellesley students choose to worship on campus but organize joint events with organizations from local institutions in order to connect with other college students in the religious community.
Priyanka Ram ’17, one of the copresidents of Wellesley’s Hindu student organization, Darshana, explained how this group participates in events with students from Boston University, Harvard University or MIT to commemorate the holiday Navratri.
“During the fall, there is a nine day festival Hindus celebrate called Navratri,” Ram explained. “One major form of celebration is a specific type of dance called Garba. Therefore, we attend BU, MIT or Harvard Garba celebrations every fall.”
Ram finds it rewarding to be able to meet students at other institutions and celebrate a shared holiday. She explained that through participating in off-campus events, students “are able to forge new bonds with members of religious groups at other schools and neighboring communities.”
However, Ram also acknowledged that there are challenges to collaborating with other Hindu student organizations.
“We have found that it is difficult to find Hindu groups that are willing to co-sponsor events or have the funding to do so,” she explained.
In addition to celebrating religious holidays with other groups off-campus, student religious organizations often organize intercollegiate retreats where they have the opportunity to mingle with other students and engage in meaningful discussions and conversations.
Anne Shen ’17, a former student leader of Asian Baptist Student Koinonia (ABSK), elaborated on the retreats they attend as a group and the benefits of attending such events.
“Once a semester, Wellesley ABSK takes part in an off-campus retreat attended by ABSK chapters in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington D.C,” she said. “Certainly, one of the rewards of participating in off-campus events is the chance to step outside the Wellesley bubble, meet other people and be refreshed by the change of scenery.”
Shen added that transportation and commute time are challenges that come with attending off-campus religious events. However, she acknowledged that rides are usually provided and that there are many rewards to participating in religious events outside of Wellesley.
“I think physically leaving our busy academic space during retreats helps us to re-focus on what is important,” said Shen. “It is easy to get bogged down by the daily grind of assignments, tests, papers, lab work, etc., but I find that taking the time to step back for a moment allows me to seriously reflect on the Bible and what it means to have a relationship with God.”
Off-campus religious and spiritual involvement is not limited to only local programs and events; students also engage in programs and events on a national scale. This year, ORSL has implemented a new interfaith Alternative Spring Break in conjunction with Harambee House and Community Engagement, which will take place across Georgia and Alabama in Atlanta, Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery.
The program is titled “Confronting the Unacceptable: An Interfaith Engagement with the Civil Rights Movement” and will allow students to “explore the intersections between faith and justice, in both the historic civil rights movement and in the pressing civil rights issues of our day,” according to Steinwert.
Whether students engage in religious or spiritual events on campus, locally or nationally, Steinwert explained that it is important for students to realize the connection between spiritual life and a liberal arts education.
“I often talk about my work as providing students the opportunity and space to ask one of life’s most pressing questions, ‘Who am I and who do I want to become for the sake of the world?’” she said. “Spirituality and contemplative reflection are a critical part of a liberal arts education.”