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March 31, 2010

About the Chapel Restructuring

Last year, Smith made the decision to reduce the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, resulting in the elimination of chaplain positions, which will take effect at the end of this semester. Although the change is part of the college’s $20 million budget reduction plan necessitated by the economic downturn, it is also a decision that reflects the changing needs of a student body with increasingly diverse religious beliefs.

Since the 1950s, the chaplains have offered religious services and support for Catholic, Jewish and Protestant students. Yet, as the student body has grown more diverse, it has become difficult to reconcile why some religions, such as those practiced by Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu students, are not represented by chaplains while Protestant, Jewish and Catholic religions are. The new direction for the chapel described in Dean Jennifer Walters’ white paper on the history and future of the chapel supports more equitably the wide range of student beliefs at Smith today. It is true to the mission of the Helen Hills Hills Chapel upon its dedication in 1955, not as a college church, but as a gathering place for people of every religion. And, it is consistent with many peer institutions, which have also moved away from privileging a particular religion or denomination.

Understandably some students, staff, and alumnae are concerned about the change, as is the case with any loss of co-workers and friends who have made valuable contributions to our community. It is important to note that Smith will continue to support religious faith and practice as part of the mission of student life. The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life will offer advice and help to students seeking to practice religion, whether individually, with other students, or within the larger community. Jennifer Walters, dean of religious life, will invite religious leaders and practitioners to campus to provide guidance and wise counsel. In collaboration with students, she will develop programming that complements the curricular offerings of the Department of Religious Studies. These new initiatives are designed to enable all of us to understand religious faith and practice in a world where religion matters, whether or not you identify with a specific faith.


Maureen A. Mahoney, Dean of the College

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