Last spring Smith conducted a national search for the new leader of the Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, and I put my hat in the ring, so to speak, after serving as Interim Director for a year, and Interfaith Fellow for three years before that. It is a deep and humbling honor for me to have been selected and to be asked to serve in this role. Especially, it feels, in these times that the need for religious and spiritual leadership is as urgent as it has ever been—in light of deeply divisive politics, oppression of those in the most need, and widespread violence.
But perhaps much of what we are experiencing is an uncovering of what was already there, in strands and currents everywhere. We are living in times of widespread visibility of things that were formerly more hidden.
This is true of campuses, and of Smith, as it is in the country. As we become more diverse, inequities become more apparent. As we are exposed to the realities of the suffering of the world, we become less able to turn away, but sometimes in the process can feel embittered, frightened, and territorial.
James Baldwin said, “not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” In light of this, I feel two of the most crucial aspects of spiritual leadership are to name realities, and to identify hope.
One of the many deeply thought-provoking questions I was asked when I was interviewed was, “How will you reach across difference and stimulate dialogue that is both fruitful but also kind?” My answer to this question was a version of my answer to many questions: collaboratively. My vision of leadership is as a facilitator, cultivating contexts for “brave” dialogue. I believe religious and spiritual life will continue to flourish and even expand its reach beyond what we have traditionally thought of as “religious,” because it needs to, in coming months and years.
So please keep in touch, keep sending us ideas for collaboration. We will be gleaning a committee to help us address the now and look to the future, with the needs of the 21st century college student and citizen in mind, and in line with the Smith College Strategic Plan; with special attention to inclusion, equity, diversity, stewardship, critical thinking, and engagement across difference.
And as for our theme of welcome that you will see featured in this edition of our newsletter, please let us know how you think we’re doing. What have we done that helps you feel welcome? What could we do to make ourselves more accessible and welcoming, no matter where you have been, or where you you’re going?
I have received a warm and endorsing welcome from the Smith community into this position and I work with a knowledgeable, informed, and dedicated staff who are committed to the mission of religious and spiritual life and all its permutations. I am committed to doing my best to work alongside them and the rest of this community to promote and think in new ways about our mission to cultivate spiritual flourishing within the college and beyond.
Matilda Rose Cantwell
Director of Religious and Spiritual Life, College Chaplain