HDS <3 HUDS: HDS Students support the Harvard University Dining Service Workers



“In seeking the long-term welfare of all, we endeavor to accept responsibility for the impact of our actions on our community, our environment, and the world. We hold ourselves and each other accountable for our behavior and our use of resources.” –HDS Community Values


HUDS workers gather with undergraduate and graduate students in front of the John Harvard Statute in Harvard Yard. Photo Credit: Brittany Landorf

On Wednesday, October 5, the Harvard University Dining Service workers went on strike after months of contract negotiations fell through with the university. The HUDS workers are protesting a cut to their health care plan, one that would raise their co-pay and make it prohibitive to seek services and seeking a $35,000 annual salary with a guaranteed stipend during the summer months. Currently, HUDS workers are required to be on call during the summer months and are not allowed to collect unemployment benefits. While the average hourly wage is above minimum wage, this does not take into account how many hours workers are allotted during the year as well as the lack of employment they experience during the summer months. In addition, it is not sufficient for the high living costs of Cambridge, Boston and the surrounding areas.

Support for the strikers has poured in from the students in the undergraduate college and graduate schools. At Harvard Divinity School, the HDS Student Association has connected the Divinity School’s community values with the HUDS worker’s plight, standing in support of the strike, “In voicing our support for HUDS workers, we draw on those moral teachings shared by many of the world’s spiritual and ethical traditions which emphasize compassion, dignity, and justice for all people. Burdening workers with unsustainable incomes and unaffordable health care coverage directly contradicts the values of equity and social justice we believe Harvard must stand for – for its students, faculty members, and workers alike.”


Top to bottom: Natalie Malter, Rod Owens, and Nestor Pimienta speaking at the interfaith spiritual service held by HDS students for HUDS strikers. Photo Credit: Angela Counts

Many HDS students have become personally involved in the strike, supporting the picket line, staging walk-outs, and providing spiritual and material services to the HUDS workers.  HDS students held an interfaith spiritual service for the HUDS workers before a student-led walk-out at the beginning of this week. And, on Tuesday, students led a walk-out from Community Tea, a weekly opportunity for HDS students and faculty to socialize over food and tea, to bring food and beverages to the HUDS workers.

First-year MTS candidate Madeline Kinkel has been at the forefront of organizing HDS students to provide support to the workers. She created a Facebook page “HDS ❤ HUDS,” and has helped coordinate an HDS petition and food drives for the workers. Madeline is the daughter of a union family and has a deep understanding of the important roles unions play in negotiating living wages, health care, and other benefits. Madeline spoke with HDS Admissions GA, Brittany Landorf, the other day about what it means to support the HUDS workers to her, “When I heard about the negotiations between the union and the university, it felt personal. As a first year student at HDS, I didn’t know any of the workers involved, not at first anyway. That didn’t matter. Thinking of how stressful it is to not have affordable health care, to avoid going to the doctor when you’re sick, and having to try to take care of a family and children on top of that, I couldn’t even imagine. Beyond this gut reaction, raising the standard of working conditions for one group of people can help raise them for everyone. Joining the struggle for fair pay and health care coverage felt like I was joining the fight for my family.”

Madeline became more involved with the strike after helping set up a petition with other HDS students to show support of the HUDS workers. She has since met several of the HUDS workers and union leaders, “About a week after the [HDS] petition was public, I was introduced to Aaron D., one of the HUDS workers. Aaron is not only incredibly kind, but also knows all the ins and outs of the conflict between the university and the HUDS workers. From what I’ve heard, Harvard has begun to offer marginally better wages, and an infinitesimal summer stipend, if the workers agree to drastically cut health care. So, they want their workers to just keep running, hoping that they won’t trip and get sick, that their children won’t get sick.”


MTS Candidate Madeline Kinkel photo credit: Brittany Landorf

She connects her service and support of the strikers with the HDS mission statement, “The HDS mission statement reads that we are training people to build a more equitable world. It seemed to me that as HDS students, with all the privileges that come with that title, we were and are called to stand alongside families and people desperately fighting for a chance to live, a chance to live without that constant anxiety and fear.

For Madeline and many other HDS students, supporting the strike is not a choice; it is a direct reflection of the academic, community, and spiritual values that motivated them to apply to HDS in the first place, “And so I, and a solid group of HDS students, have been shirking our scholarly duties and organizing, and going to the picket lines to stand with the workers. In part because we are called to fight for an equitable world, and in part because, personally and selfishly, I think of my mother working a non-union, minimum wage job and driving in her broken car in the winter with no safety net if the frozen wind makes her sick, and I need to stand with the striking workers.”

Encountering Faces of Divinity: An Exhibit of Inclusion

If you walk through the Harvard Divinity School campus right now, you’ll see the crisp air turning the leaves into copper hues; students gathering around shared spaces to discuss readings and community activities; and remarkable guest speakers sharing their own unique perspectives on religion, faith and spirituality. Additionally, to coincide with Harvard Divinity School’s 200 year anniversary, this year marked the opening of an evocatively titled multimedia exhibition, Faces of Divinity: Envisioning Inclusion for 200 Years. Faces of Divinity showcases twenty-one exhibits of photographs, poetry, paintings and audiovisual materials located all around the HDS Campus – in Andover, Divinity, and Rockefeller halls. The exhibit was designed to celebrate HDS’s bicentennial and also to highlight the multifaceted display of histories connected to HDS.


Faces of Divinity exhibit, Divinity Hall Panel. Photograph by Sujay Pandit.

Developed over a span of more than eight months by Professor Ann Braude, director of the Women’s Studies in Religion Program and Senior Lecturer in American Religious History, this multimedia exhibit recounts the history of Harvard Divinity School, which was founded in 1816. Professor Braude worked alongside three Harvard doctoral students (who had the unique opportunity to serve as assistant curators): Eva Payne, MDiv ’10, Christopher Allison, and Tom Whittaker.

The exhibit opened on August 30, 2016, right before the 2016 Convocation for HDS students. Although the exhibit draws on 200 years of history, the content feels fresh, innovative and timely. By bringing together diverse narrative voices from students, faculty and university initiatives, the exhibit helps viewers understand how HDS became one of the preeminent multireligious, multidisciplinary centers of academic excellence, religious scholarship, and service to the local and global communities. While unique to this particular historical moment, the exhibit explores the development and history of HDS through a series of themes including: theology and ethics, history, and Unitarian and Universality traditions, as well as Jewish, Asian, Islamic, African American and women’s religious studies, ministry training, preaching and social justice. Like viewing an enormous tree from multiple sides, each of these narrative angles allows a viewer to understand a particular community at HDS but also points to resource rich, larger community of our school that holds us together.


Image from Faces of Divinity exhibit.

In an interview with HDS, Professor Braude discussed her interest in creating the exhibit:

“The bicentennial offers an opportunity to change the visual culture of the School. I want to show on the walls of the School how the people who are here now came to be here. I want the students who are here to be able to see that they have a legitimate place in the ongoing history of the School, that their voices are needed to continue the ever-widening conversation about religion that has been going on for 200 years.”

(To read the full interview with Professor Braude, please click here.)

The exhibit transforms the “visual culture” of HDS to include the stories, creative work, scholarship and perspectives from voices that would have remained obscure without the exhibit. Although the exhibit is not a complete record of the School (imagine the sheer size of chronicling 200 years of history!), Faces of Divinity takes the necessary steps to follow students, faculty, and staff across porous and shifting lines between HDS and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, a line often discussed in relation to the exhibit’s themes.


Seasons of Light (2013) photograph from Faces of Divinity exhibit.

My favorite part of the entire exhibit is the multimedia station located in Rockefeller Hall’s first floor; entitled, “Expanding the Archive,” this exhibit permits visitors to add their memories, and contributions to the exhibit. This moment in the exhibit’s timeline allows current and past students to remember how HDS has directly shaped their education, and it allows prospective students to imagine themselves as becoming part of the branches of the incredibly complex, multifaceted tree that is HDS.

I hope you will take the time to encounter the faces of the exhibit on your visit to Harvard Divinity School, and perhaps even see your own reflected back as part of our community.

Deepening Discernment through DivEx


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If I had to describe my journey to Harvard Divinity School, I would refer to the words of Frederick Buechner in Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, in which he states: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Over time, I’ve adopted this understanding of my calling to the world and weaved Buechner’s words through my narrative.

As a high school student, while working at a local non-profit interfaith coffee shop, I remember thriving in an environment that encouraged musings, followed wanderings, and above all, valued global social justice. After graduation, I began to work my way through my undergraduate program, where I brought my musings to a campus that allowed me to grow in my passion for social justice. Eventually, I followed my wanderings to Limpopo, South Africa, where I was able to actively collaborate with local community members in working towards community social justice goals. Near the end of my undergraduate career, my musings and wanderings combined with my passion for social justice, led me to consider the intersection of my deep gladness and the world’s hunger. With these questions, I began to consider continuing my education through the means of Divinity School or seminary, but not without question… lots and lots of questions.


Panoramic View of Andover Hall, Harvard Divinity School

I struggled to decide if my desires were best fit for a traditional seminary or a Divinity School. My hyper-Type A personality had me buried in pro-con lists, researching schools around the country, while continuing to ask where I wanted my theological education to lead me. Last November, in the midst of these lists and research, I found myself as a participant in HDS’ Diversity and Explorations Program (DivEx). I approached DivEx with the same explorative attitude, passion, and flexibility that I carried from my previous experiences and here, I discovered the welcoming community, innovative thinking, and tremendous resources that HDS has to offer.

During DivEx, the time I spent in conversation with professors, administrators, current and prospective students, and various other leaders, guided my search for a theological education. It was here that I had the opportunity to sit with other DivEx participants to discern my direction in the world. DixEx has so much to offer: class visits, admissions and financial aid information sessions, and community events that provide an authentic sense of the atmosphere at HDS. In my DivEx experience, my most valuable conversations happened naturally, such as over a cup of coffee, or around the dinner table, where professors and students truly embodied the openness of the HDS community.


Samantha Melton (center) with Angela Counts, HDS Director of Admissions, and 2015 DivEx participants.

These colorful conversations are what I continued to think about months later; I still carry these conversations to my classes today. The direction of my education developed from these friendships. In this space of people devoted to social-justice, myself and my fellow DivEx participants come willing to cultivate conversation, explore musings, and embrace wanderings.

As you embark on the journey of considering theological education, I urge you to nurture your musings, follow your wanderings, and let your ‘deep gladness’ lead you. I invite you to listen as you share a meal with those around you, and use conversations as guideposts in your discernment as you continue to ask where your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet. If you are participating in DivEx this year, or thinking about applying to DivEx next year, I hope that you find value beyond the surface, and your conversations lead you to clarity in your discernment.

All the best on your journey,

Samantha Melton, M.Div. ’19

Meet the 2016-2017 Office of Admissions Graduate Assistants!


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Meet the 2016-2017 Admissions Office Graduate Assistants: 

Greetings from the 2016-2017 HDS Office of Admissions Graduate Assistants! Recently, we had a virtual conversation about HDS, working in the Office of Admissions, and pies. We hope this gives you some insight on how students live and work at HDS; we look forward to interacting with the 2016-2017 applicants this year!

-Brittany Landorf, MTS ‘18, Samantha Melton, MDiv ‘19, Sujay Pandit, MTS ‘18


From Left to Right: Brittany Landorf, Samantha Melton, and Sujay Pandit

Who we are: 

SP: My name is Sujay Pandit, and I am incoming MTS student here at HDS. My concentration is Religion, Ethics, and Politics and I am interested in exploring the intersections between disaster research and religion in the United States.

BL:  My name is Brittany Landorf, and I’m also an incoming MTS student at HDS.  I am studying Islamic Studies with a focus on Women, Gender, and Sexuality in Islam.  I am interested in studying modern social movements and female spiritual leaders in Islam through the lens of feminist and queer critical theories.

SM: Hi Friends! My name is Samm Melton, and I am currently a first year M.Div. candidate at HDS, currently in the ordination process with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). I am particularly interested in social justice issues within the church the congregational response to these issues and have a passion for mental health advocacy within the church.

Why are you here/what brought you here?

SP: I came to HDS after recently completing my Ph.D. in Performance Studies at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. As part of my research, I became fascinated with the role that individual and communal religious experiences play in the aftermath of a crisis. I wanted to learn more about how religion and faith correlate to local and global experiences of disaster.

BL: As an undergraduate at Macalester College, I came to Religious Studies while studying International Studies and Arabic Language.  I found that Religious Studies offered an interdisciplinary approach that gave me a deeper understanding of Islam.  I became interested in the lived experience of piety Muslim people, specifically young Muslim women, performed in their daily lives.  After graduating from undergrad, I spent a year in Turkey on a Fulbright English Teaching Fellowship.  That experience helped me realize my interest in deepening my understanding of Islam from the intersection of religious studies and feminist and critical gender theories.

SM: Although I have considered ministry since high school, oddly enough, my journey to Divinity School started while I was a barista at a local non-profit coffee shop in high school. An unlikely scene to spark my interests, this coffee shop doubled as an interfaith community that had a passion for social justice and sparked my interest in the intersection of faith and social justice. Throughout undergrad, I spent the majority of my summer in Limpopo, South Africa, learning and working towards a sustainable ministry. As a psychology major, the value of mental health within the church, combined with my passion for social justice, and a call to ministry rooted in an interfaith space, led me to study at a multireligious divinity school.

What do we do as Graduate Assistants at HDS?

SP: As Graduate Assistants, we are in charge of working with the Office of Admissions on a variety of tasks. Each day brings new surprises! For example, in one day, I can be juggling working as a tour guide for prospective students, using my graphic design skills to create flyers or presentations, or answering prospective students’ emails and phone calls to our office. Since no day is typical, I am always eager to learn new skills and add them to my HDS tool belt.

BL:  My favorite part of being a Graduate Assistant at HDS is speaking to and meeting prospective students.  When I was applying, the GAs offered incredible advice and insight into the academic programs and community at HDS.  In addition to helping prospective students, we help host on and off-campus admissions events and facilitate conversations between current and incoming students.

SM: I would agree with Brittany and Sujay. Our typical day can vary pretty drastically. However, nothing brightens my day like meeting and speaking with prospective students. Since I’ve recently been through the admission process, I love hearing about where students are hoping their education can take them, as well as connecting them with the many resources here at HDS.

What is one thing we are excited for this year? 

SP: I am excited to experience Theological Education Day 2016 (T.E.D.) and the Diversity and Explorations Program (DivEx) because I was unable to attend those events when I was applying to HDS. Now, I’ll get the chance to see how the Office of Admissions organizes and executes these two exciting events!

BL:  I am also very excited for T.E.D. and DivEx.  I cannot wait to meet the prospective applicants and help show them around HDS’ campus!  In the spring, I am looking forward to organizing our Open House for incoming students.

SM: As a recent DivEx Alum, I am most excited to share in the DivEx experience with prospective students this year, particularly since my DivEx experience became such an integral part of my discernment process. I too am also excited for the Open House for incoming students, as I look forward to campus coming alive as we welcome new students and prepare for a new year.

What do we like about the community? 

SP: I enjoy the diversity here at HDS.  This diversity extends beyond the classroom walls, and I see it in the Office of Admissions. It is thrilling to work in an office surrounded by people with diverse perspectives on religion, academia, faith and spirituality. Most importantly, I wanted my time at HDS to prepare me with academic and also practical skills, and working as a GA helps me keep some balance to all the theoretical work I do in my coursework.

BL: Working in the Admissions Office has helped me develop a deeper understanding of the HDS community.  It is wonderful to see the Divinity School’s emphasis on fostering diverse and intentional spiritual communities extend to all aspects of the school.

SM: The Admissions Office has also helped me to develop a deeper understanding of the community of HDS. The diversity of the community is truly mirrored in the vast array of activities, community events, and students groups that HDS has to offer. Simply by walking around campus, you can truly feel how tight-knit this community is and their commitment to one another.

Favorite moment at HDS, thus far?

SP: Too many to count! One stands out: my supervisor and Assistant Director of Admissions, Sarah Guzy, brought us decadently rich pie to our first GA meeting of the semester!

BL: We went candlestick bowling for our office retreat at my favorite pizza place. It was a great way to bond with everyone and show off our bowling skills!

SM: There so many, but mine would likely have to be meeting with the Innovative Ministries group. It’s incredibly exciting and inspiring to hear the innovative ways in which people are seeking to do ministry!

Favorite pie?

SP: 3.14159

BL: Apple!!!! Or Rhubarb, it depends on the time of the year.

SM: Nothing beats a homemade pie of any type!

We can’t wait to connect with you as you discern if HDS is the right place for you, and move through the application process.  Contact us via email at ask_students@hds.harvard.edu or call us at 617-495-0639! 


Student Reflections on the HDS Application Process


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With the beginning of a new academic year around the corner, returning HDS students reflect on their application process and offer their advice to students thinking about applying to HDS:


Incoming MTS student and Office of Admissions GA, Brittany Landorf reenacts her application process.

  • My number one advice to people is to recognize that the decision to attend divinity school requires a leap of faith. It is perfectly normal to be less-than-certain that this mysterious path is the “right one.” But if you find the big questions in life to be the most compelling ones, it is the best place to continue your journey toward wisdom and understanding. The main thing I wish I had known was just how stark the difference could be between interreligious and tradition-specific schools. If you want to study across religious borders, don’t expect to do that at a Christian seminary (even one that seems open to those inclinations). The tradition(s) in which a divinity school is grounded enhance and restrict the type of learning that takes place there, even if one is not pursuing ordination. If you are coming from a Christian or Jewish tradition, it is worth weighing whether you want to go significantly deeper into that tradition or broaden your study. —Daniel Becton, M.Div. ’18
  • A month into my year-long Fulbright fellowship in Turkey, I knew I wanted to pursue my interest in Islamic religion and culture in an academic setting. Finding a school and a program that combined my academic interests in Islamic Studies and Women and Gender Studies with my passion for religious literacy and intentional community building seemed like an unachievable goal. Harvard Divinity School offered the incredible opportunity to pursue a rigorous academic discussion with the understanding of how the lived experience of religion impacts individuals and communities. – Brittany Landorf, MTS ’18
  • The application process introduced me to the practices of deep thinking and courageous writing that have made my Harvard Divinity School education transformative beyond my wildest imaginings.—Sitraka St. Michael, M.Div. ’17
  • I was surprised how much my visits to the schools impacted my decisions to apply and helped my decision to enroll. Visit, if at all possible, even before applying. Start and submit early. Sweat the small stuff. Pay particular attention to details like GREs, due dates, giving your advisors enough time, etc.). Don’t be shy about calling the admissions office, but don’t wait until the last minute. Your letters of recommendation matter; choose your writers wisely and give them lots of time. Your statement of purpose is the most important. Don’t be shy about naming specific professors/programs/offices in your statement. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE APPLY FOR FINANCIAL AID!!! HDS has very, very, very few merit awards, BUT the majority of students qualify for financial aid, and it’s very generous, so do it. Our need-based aid can sometimes even trump other schools’ merit-based aid. —Keith Esposito, M.Div. ’18
  • The one thing I would say I wish I had known is that relief doesn’t automatically come when you finish the applications. The waiting period is almost as hard as the application period, but it does make finding out that your hard work paid off even sweeter! – Allison Hurst, MTS ’17
  • Applying to HDS was a total labor of love for me. There is something about applying to pursue graduate studies that feel uniquely personal and self-directed. I was surprised by how easy it was to craft a statement of purpose and by how much of myself I poured into the essay. My best advice to future applicants is to spend time reflecting on what is motivating you to study at HDS, and then write about that! Not only will it help give the admissions committee a clear picture of the person behind the application, but it will also help you clarify your values and aspirations as you move into this new chapter of your education. —Carly Matas, M.Div. ’17
  • My application to HDS required creative and logistical planning. On the logistical side, I recommend setting up a schedule with the important dates for when documents are due (transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, financial aid forms) and to stick as close to your schedule as you can. Obtaining the right documents from various institutions requires patience and time and the more days you have set aside to get this done will enable you to have more flexibility with the creative planning. The creative planning involves thinking about your particular academic and vocational interests and how you plan to utilize the wealth of resources, classes, and experiences at Harvard. At this point, I recommend visiting the HDS website and accompanying social media to enrich your understanding of what HDS does and how you would fit into the fabric of our community. Use the information culled during this stage to write the best admissions essay you can. Remember: leave room for “happy accidents,” and enough time to edit and re-edit your admissions essays to reflect the most prismatic version of yourself.
    – Sujay Pandit, MTS ’18

Stay tuned to the Harvard Divinity School website for more updates and the release of the admissions application for the 2017 academic year!

Hallowed Ground


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Today Andover Hall is at the center of our Divinity School campus. Crowned with a gothic tower, flanked by the stately Theological Library and the modern Rockefeller Hall, with Jewett House and the Center for the Study of World Religions paying their homage from across Francis Street, Andover is Harvard’s sole example of college gothic architecture. It looks every bit the home of a divinity school. But it was plain, unassuming Divinity Hall that I would first discover when Stephanie Paulsell, our Susan Shallcross Swartz Professor of Christian Practice, encouraged me to explore HDS for graduate study.

Divinity Hall - Rose Lincoln

Emerson Chapel – Photo by Rose Lincoln

“Go to Divinity Hall,” she told me, “Emerson Chapel’s on the third floor—don’t miss it!” Leaving Harvard Yard, where Stephanie was teaching Literature of Journey and Quest that summer, I set off in search of Divinity Avenue and the hall for which it’s named. Harvey Cox, our beloved emeritus Hollis Professor, delights in telling us of our “exile” from Harvard Yard in 1826. In his telling, our troublesome forbearers were hard at work afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted, and Harvard  wanted a little distance from the theological rabble-rousers in their midst. On that hot summer day when I finally came upon “Div Hall” as we call it, I would find it facing resolutely away from the street, its back to the Yard, determined to engage the world.

On that hot summer day when I finally came upon “Div Hall” as we call it, I would find it facing resolutely away from the street, its back to the Yard, determined to engage the world.

Dutifully climbing the stairs to the third floor, I discovered a small, quiet chapel with chairs arranged in an open square, facing each other across the room. Bookended by a pulpit on one end and an organ on the other, the chapel is adorned with several large plaques commemorating the luminaries who helped to shape the Divinity School’s early history. On that day the two old chandeliers seemed superfluous as natural sunlight streamed through the large colonial style windows. Stephanie had described it as a secret gem, and indeed it seemed that I had stumbled into a well-preserved bit of history, still extraordinarily well-suited to quiet contemplation and reflection.

These days, it is Andover Hall’s Chapel that serves as our gathering place on Wednesday’s for Noon Service and on Tuesday mornings for our Ecumenical Eucharist. We gather there for Seasons of Light and other big occasions throughout the year. By contrast, Divinity Hall’s Emerson Chapel has come to serve as a place where members of the HDS community come to find respite from the rush of activity that can sometimes characterize the divinity school experience. Students seek out this space to read or pray or simply sit in meditation. Small classes and discussion groups convene in the cool quiet of Emerson Chapel for conversation inflected by a sense of our history and feeling of timelessness.

Divinity Hall’s Emerson Chapel has come to serve as a place where members of the HDS community come to find respite from the rush of activity that can sometimes characterize the divinity school experience.

But the chapel in Divinity Hall used to be at the center of our communal life, serving the students of HDS when Divinity Hall wasn’t our oldest building, but our only building. Preaching classes would convene there, visiting eminences would come to preach and proclaim, and a 35-year-old Ralph Waldo Emerson would scandalize the community with his Divinity School Address on another hot summer day 176 years before I would find my way to the chapel that now bears his name.

On July 15, 1838, Emerson took to the chapel’s pulpit to encourage that year’s graduating class of divinity students to “acquaint themselves at first hand with deity.” Not quite ready for such a radical message, the community waited some thirty years to invite him back! Of course, Emerson was only participating in that particular brand of theological troublemaking that has characterized the best of us here at HDS for 200 years now. As we celebrate our bicentennial, we look forward to another 200 years of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

Thinking with (Com)passion: Exploring the Humanity of Undocumented Immigrants at HDS


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Book shelf. Photo by Chris Alburger

As a former organizer in the immigration movement, I came to Harvard Divinity School to learn more about liberation theology and figure out how I could relate it to my understanding of undocumented immigrants. My overall project was to integrate undocumented immigrants into the political philosophy of the United States. My idea consisted of making an argument based on contribution. In simple terms, I argued that undocumented immigrants had a claim to American citizenship because of their economic contribution to society. My undergraduate training in economics directed me to think in terms of utility, production, benefits and costs. I presupposed that undocumented immigrants deserved to be recognized and granted citizenship by the American polity because of their contributions to the economy and society.

I took Professor Carrasco’s class because I wanted to approach immigration from an academic perspective, bringing to that perspective my background in organizing for immigrants’ rights and experiences an undocumented student.

In my first semester at HDS I took Davíd Carrasco’s “Human Migration and US-Mexico Borderlands: Moral Dilemmas and Sacred Bundles.” The class examined “the immigration crisis of the Mexico-US borderlands within the epic context of human migration in history and global perspective.” I took this class because I wanted to approach immigration from an academic perspective, bringing to that perspective my background in organizing for immigrants’ rights and experiences an undocumented student.

The first book that we read for the class was called Enrique’s Journey, and it immediately challenged my argument based on contribution. How do you incorporate children refugees into the American polity? They cannot contribute to the economy because of their age. Are they then less worth of American citizenship than the rest of undocumented immigrants? I had to rethink the premises of my argument to accommodate those undocumented immigrants whose contribution couldn’t be measured monetarily.


Photo by Katelynn Carver

Time passed, we read more books, and we discussed Carrasco’s concept of “sacred bundles” in greater depth. He argues that when Mexican immigrants migrate to the United States, they bring with them a sacred bundle full of memories, hopes, beliefs, stories, etc. This bundle, in turn, is constitutive of their identity. That notion opened my eyes to the religious dimension of immigration. Eventually I realized that my contribution-based argument was operating within an economic framework that assigned value to people on the basis of their labor.

By the end of the semester, I had rethought my whole argument. In my final paper I pointed out the moral arbitrariness of American citizenship. I argued for the incorporation of undocumented immigrants into the American polity using philosophical mechanisms that recognized and protected their humanity. In their focus on humanity, these mechanisms valued immigrants’ lives by virtue of their existence, not their economic contribution. Carrasco’s class added much to my understanding of the relationship between Mexico and the United States and the issue of immigration. Most importantly, however, it allowed me to contemplate, recognize, and value the humanity of undocumented immigrants by giving me access to different learning materials.

In addition to discussing the material and our views on immigration with each other during our session, we screened Robert M. Young’s award-winning Alambrista! and different guest speakers came to share their research and experiences in our classes. We read books that varied in their methodological approaches to immigration and thus learned to study the topic from different perspectives.

I argued for the incorporation of undocumented immigrants into the American polity using philosophical mechanisms that recognized and protected their humanity. In their focus on humanity, these mechanisms valued immigrants’ lives by virtue of their existence, not their economic contribution.

My two favorite components of the class were the final paper and the dinners sponsored by Professor Carrasco. First, we had the opportunity to write a final research paper on a topic pertaining to immigration that was of special interest to us. Many wrote about the stories of their families, some interviewed immigrants they knew, and still others wrote proposals for future projects related to immigration. I think most of us enjoyed working on our papers because we had the flexibility to write about something that we were passionate about. Second, I also enjoyed the two dinners for the class: Mexican food was provided and we got to discuss the topics at hand while breaking bread together outside the classroom.

In addition to all this, I was most impacted by Dr. Carrasco himself—his passion for the topic kept me interested during all his classes and animated our class discussions. I’m looking forward to taking more classes like this one here at HDS, where students and professors alike share not only a passion for the topic of study and a compassion for those lives they hope to improve by that study.

Here in This Place


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We’re well into summer here at HDS and there’s a different feel to the campus. Many students have left us for field education internships that have taken them from locations as close as local hospitals and churches to places as far flung as Ireland and Mexico. Other students have remained here to study a language in the Summer Language Program (SLP), our language intensive that packs two semesters’ worth of foreign language study into eight short weeks.

As we prepare to kick off our Bicentennial Celebration with the incoming class’s arrival in August, the signs of “sprucing” abound….

As the heat rises, so too does the green-clad scaffolding around Andover Hall at the heart of our campus. As we prepare to kick off our Bicentennial Celebration with the incoming class’s arrival in August, the signs of “sprucing” abound: bulletin boards are being reconfigured; extra periodical stacks in the library have made way for more collaborative spaces and flexible seating arrangements; Andover Chapel’s iconic wooden chairs huddle beneath blue tarp as the dust of renovation swirls; the distinguished luminaries who usually gaze down on us from the walls of the Braun Room have been whisked away for refurbishment.


And yet, even amid the bustle of these efforts, a kind of muted calm prevails. Fewer voices are heard in the halls of Divinity, Rockefeller, and Andover; fewer people seen treading the paths of the Green. In the absence of classes, office hours are more leisurely affairs, the murmur of theories and ideas blending with recollections and reminiscences as they spill through half-open doors into the quiet warrens of faculty offices.

This is HDS in the summer: fewer classes, with their attendant readings and sections and papers; fewer lectures and book signings; fewer plays and performances; fewer things to fear missing out on. And in their place? A bit more time. Time for impromptu chats with professors on the quad. Time for drinks and fellowship at a local brewery to celebrate surviving another week of SLP. Time for reconnecting with the friends who’ve remained close at hand and reaching out to those who’ve traveled around the world, reveling in their tales of adventure and service and meaning-making.

This is HDS in the summer: less FOMO, more time.

There’s time too for abiding in this place where we are—for looking around at the signs and symbols that surround us here at HDS and the University of which we’re a part. In the coming weeks I’ll be using this blog to do just that: to explore the tapestry of meaning woven throughout HDS in these spaces suffused with summer before fall’s festivities begin.

Fun as an Academic Strategy


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As we near the end of another semester, I find myself reflecting on my first finals week experience and I realize that it captured well an ethos that I want to live out throughout my time at HDS: having fun is integral to academic survival.

I had one crazy goal: I wanted not just to survive finals week, I wanted to enjoy it.

As finals week loomed large in early December, I had one crazy goal: I wanted not just to survive finals week, I wanted to enjoy it. That seemed impossible given that I had eight papers covering about sixty-five pages of writing all due in a two week time period. Yet, I had this hunch that I actually wouldn’t survive if I didn’t enjoy it. So, I set out to figure out how to make finals week, in a sense, fun.

I had two strategies to make this happen. First, I wanted finals week to strengthen my newly formed HDS friendships. I know myself well: I go crazy without some sort of social interaction. I get lonely without people. When I am lonely, I am unproductive. So, I made a point to recruit people to study with me. I found that in quiet libraries surrounded by friends, writing was easier. I was inspired when I saw people next to me making diligent progress. We supported one another without distracting one another. When I needed a break, I went on walks with a friend instead of taking a solo “break” via distractions on the internet.

. . . having fun is integral to academic survival.

It worked perfectly. While I usually studied with only one or two friends, at one point we organized a Div School takeover of a block of desks in Lamont Library. In that intense environment, everyone working on their respective papers, working through stress and exhaustion together, and reviewing drafts for one another, it felt like we were all in it together. It was awesome. And, I indeed felt closer to my friends at the end of finals week than I had when we began.


My next goal was to not only dive into the content of my papers, but to explore the connections between them, to enjoy how they played off one another. As I wrote, I decided to work four of them together to explore a common theme. Pursuing one theme repeatedly — in this case, ritual — helped me deepen my enthusiasm and sense of academic adventure in a way that was, indeed, fun.

For one class, I got to analyze the idea of ritual in an academic context. I examined Professor Amy Hollywood’s thesis that ritual, through referencing an original concept that remains unchanged but repeated in changing contexts, can create a space for self-becoming. For another, I got to look at ritual through the lens of a novel about a rabbi, tracking her spiritual becoming through her relationship to Jewish ritual. I then had the opportunity to look at my own life, reflecting on how Christian ritual has become an important part of my life at HDS, deepening my fragile Christian faith as I continue to wrestle with Christian theology. Lastly, I got to tie all this together looking at how the vessel of ritual has held my own spiritual evolution in a way that mirrors how community ritual holds community change.

Going deeply into a concept, looking at it from different angles, within different frameworks, I was able to follow one long and exciting path, instead of spreading myself thin jumping from one topic to another. I felt like a detective working through different parts of a really tough case, following different leads toward a final resolution. I had fun.

Finals week highlighted how I want to spend the next two-and-a-half years: surrounded by my peers who can push, challenge, and support me as I work hard to enjoy myself on this surprisingly fun academic journey.

Discovering a New Version of Home at HDS


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Being human is being comfortable with the uncomfortable.

I remember the first time someone told me I was going to hell (apart from the times in elementary school when my teachers were just fed up with my wisecracking in class). I was an undergrad.

“No way! I can’t go to hell. I believe in Jesus.”

But my antagonists were convinced that I didn’t believe in the right Jesus. “You believe in a false god. Not the one that comes through this church.”  By “this church” they meant their particular denomination, and in many ways they were righMemorialChurch2t: I didn’t believe in the Jesus that they interpreted in their weekly Sunday gatherings. I believed in a Jesus and a Christianity that were broader and more nuanced and more inclusive. How could they reduce a whole Jesus movement to their own particular denomination? What do you call this? Some would label it extremism. I might reach that same conclusion, but I typically imagine an extremist tying me to a chair, locking me up in a room, and forcing me to watch their religious propaganda—like Wednesday, Pugsley, and Joel were indoctrinated with Disney Films in Addam’s Family Values. Thank god that didn’t happen! Fundamentally, I believe my interlocutors felt an unease with something different. They were uncomfortable.

How to be “comfortable.”

Most of my free-spirited liberal friends would say, “Life is a balance.” I agree, wholeheartedly. However, is the balancing act ever comfortable? Think about it. When the Wild Coyote is chasing the Road Runner down a tightrope, does it ever look pleasant for the Coyote? Does it look easy for a gymnast to perform on a balance beam?

I often found myself in sweaty situations where all I could do was fake a smile, and the only place I was able to decompress was in a small, one-window bedroom. In these moments of decompression, I realized something: I was making a home.

I’ve given much thought to this idea of comfort, especially as it relates to balance, and I’ve come to believe that comfortableness is not a human quality. We are always susceptible to forces beyond our control and encroached by evil even in places of peace. Our bodies are degenerative. Our families, traditions, and legacies fade or are replaced, and only a few of us are lucky enough to see three generations. Being human is uncomfortable. Being human is being comfortable with the uncomfortable.

In my time at Harvard Divinity School, I have often been uncomfortable. In the beginning, I thought I would get used to the different personalities, cultures, customs, views, and people, but that never happened. In fact, I became more uncomfortable as time progressed. I often found myself in sweaty situations where all I could do was fake a smile, and the only place I was able to decompress was in a small, one-window bedroom. In these moments of decompression, I realized something: I was making a home.

Homes take different forms. There are the physical spaces we often think of as home. Some find home in a religious tradition. But for me, home is dynamic and ever changing.

Homes take different forms. There are the physical spaces we often think of as home. Some find home in a religious tradition. But for me, home is dynamic and ever changing. It is an uncomfortable place filled with different views, people, cultures, and traditions. I don’t think of a brick-layered building, but a sculptor carving away at a block of stone. It may be incomplete, but always, in a sense, progressing. Not a progression that requires a triumphant end, but one that astonishes you with every new development.

My home is in others’ homes. It may sound bizarre. It may sound like conformity, compromise, or masquerading. But what would it be like to reimagine home? We often think of home as a refuge—a place like no other. This presumes that we are autonomous individuals, each traveling our own path, each in need of a home that consists of seclusion and apartness. In a complex, yet still divided world, I’ve found it helpful to remind myself of the value of encounter.

In a complex, yet still divided world, I’ve found it helpful to remind myself of the value of encounter.

When I first came to HDS, I was tempted to avoid encounters with the different cultures, worldviews, and religions because of unfamiliarity and unease, but after a period of time I grew aware of something happening to me. Disagreements challenged me. Cultures informed me. Traditions awakened me. This development became a consistent reminder that I am a sculpture and the world—my new community—is the sculptor.

I have found that my home is no longer an individual estate or a place of seclusion, but that my home is in others’ homes. It is not the place I retreat to in order to avoid seeing coworkers, tough situations, major events, crisis, and people. It’s the meeting place where the worlds of many become one: everyone unique and yet somehow familiar, collaborating, exchanging, and growing. Home has become a place constantly transformed by the world and life. Not a retreat, but a place of engagement.