Rev. Dr. Monica Corsaro will be returning to Knox years after she researched the Underground Railroad in the Seymour Library Archives for her doctorate, in order to fill the position of Director of Spiritual Life.
Following open forums on March 23 and 24, Vice President of Student Development Anne Ehrlich announced via email on April 5 that Corsaro will be filling the vacancy left by Lisa Seiwert’s departure last term. Corsaro currently serves as an interim pastor in Seattle and has a masters and a doctorate from Methodist seminaries.
The open forums presented a chance for students, faculty and staff to ask the two candidates, Karen Moritz and Corsaro, questions and then provide feedback by a Google form. The candidates were on campus all day and interacted with Knox community members throughout.
Each forum had 25 to 30 attendees, according to Ehrlich. Most people who went were faculty or staff. Ehrlich said she would have liked to see more students there but understood they could have scheduling conflicts.
“It seems like almost all the students that saw the candidates did fill out the feedback forms, so that was really important and I was really appreciative of that,” Ehrlich said.
Further, the feedback community members sent in pointed strongly towards Corsaro over Moritz, which Ehrlich said she expected based on her own experiences at the forums.
“They definitely saw great qualities in both candidates and saw a potential for a match at Knox. But just as far as which candidate students just felt more of a connection with, it was fairly clear to me,” Ehrlich said.
Members of the Interfaith Council were present at both open forums. Senior Josh Tvrdy went to Corsaro’s on March 24 with a definite goal in mind for what he wanted from the position so the hiree could help those going through spiritual crises.
“I guess the term I would use is a quiet visibility. And not quiet in the sense of uninvolved. . . It again has everything to do with establishing a non-threatening presence on campus, is maybe another way to say ‘quiet visibility.’ A non-threatening presence with an emphasis on presence,” Tvrdy said.
Senior Micah Wilger and the council’s chair, senior Rebecca Katz, were both present at Moritz’s open forum on March 23 and both asked questions. Katz asked about what Moritz planned her role to be in regards to the Interfaith Council. Moritz responded that she saw it as a support and advisory role, with the leadership remaining with the students.
Wilger later noted that Moritz seemed very personable in her open forum, but that he still had reservations about her experience with non-Christian traditions.
“I think, ideally, a spiritual life director would be someone who could work with people coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and provide support, counsel as needed. Also someone who would create educational opportunities for people to learn about different traditions, different paths of personal journey, spirituality,” Wilger said.
Both candidates come from Christian training and have doctorates of ministry from seminaries, according to their resumes. Currently, Moritz is an interim pastor in Lincoln, Neb. Both Moritz and Corsaro currently serve at Disciples of Christ churches.
Most of Corsaro’s career experience has been at Methodist churches but she has also served as a campus minister at the University of Washington and as a chaplain at the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of Washington State.
Corsaro has connections to Illinois, apart from her doctoral research as she attended Illinois State University, receiving a Bachelor of Science in Political Science, and has family in Geneseo, Ill.
The Interfaith Council hopes that Corsaro will continue to be a resource for them in the coming years, someone constant as the student members change from year to year.
“[Having the position filled] really would help us in having a sustainable program and having someone who could help plan programming,” Katz said.
One of Ehrlich’s goals with the candidates was that they could start by the end of Spring Term, so that they could get their bearings and start next school year ready to go.
During the open forum, Tvrdy noticed that Corsaro returned several times to the idea of listening first and then proceeding in helping students based on what she heard.
“‘How are you going to care for the students here, what is your vision of that?’ And largely her answer was: ‘Well, I’ll listen first, I’m here to listen first and not to force any sort of agenda on any student, but to listen first and act later,’” Tvrdy explained the type of questions and her answer.
An important point for the position at a secular school, according to Katz, is that Corsaro will not be working with only Christian students, but students of various, and no faiths. For Katz, the position is not just a resource for religious students or the Interfaith Council, but a resource for all students on campus.
“This is not just for students who are religious or spiritual, that this is a common good for all people. And that it needs to be,” Katz said.