The new Director of Spiritual Life Lisa Seiwert was a necessary hire for the Knox campus. Religion has been absent from conversations on campus and this part of students’ identity has been constantly overlooked.
Some students and alumni were surprised or even angry to find out that such a position has been created at a non-denominational school, but we encourage these individuals to consider the fact that there are students on this campus who needed this position. Give Seiwert time to do her job.
In recent years the campus has been slow to respond to the needs of religious students. TKS reported in May 2015 that a Pagan student prayed in a parking lot and the Islamic Club moved from the Center for Intercultural Life, to the Carl Sandburg Lounge, to the basement of Seymour Library trying to find a place to pray together.
We have not seen the campus body at large express anger or frustration when religious students’ needs were not being met in the past, so why are people angry now that there is someone here to help these students?
While the new position does not directly address the issue of having a specific religious space on campus, it does give religious students an advocate who can voice their needs to the administration and help to address needs that are not being met.
Students and alumni were upset by the position before the school year even started. Knox being a non-denominational school does not mean that it cannot support its students’ spiritual needs alongside other needs that students have.
People should be excited that Knox has created another support service for students and is listening to students feedback about gaps that they could fill.
We hope that bringing Seiwert to campus will help to give religious students a space on campus in the greater conversation. The opinions of students who do not plan to use her services are really not important in this case.
Based on our conversations with Seiwert as well as students, faculty and staff who have already worked with her, it seems that Seiwert is a good fit for Knox. She is eager to engage with students of a variety of backgrounds and wants to facilitate dialogue across religious groups.
Some students were disappointed that the college did not hire an individual of a more diverse background. It would have been a mistake for the college to have hired an individual without a passion for social justice or experience facilitating dialogues across faiths, but Seiwert has these qualifications.
The fact that she is white and Christian does of course mean that she will not personally know what it is like to be a minority in these respects, but it does not mean that she is unable to effectively work with students of other races, faiths or other identities.
We encourage her to continue to be open to engaging with students of all backgrounds while keeping in mind how her own identity as a white Christian woman will affect the way she interacts with students who identify differently. We don’t doubt that she will be able to be a great resource to students and the campus at large.