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Harmony in Resistance: Pushing Back on Your Purpose

Posted By Nicole DeLiberis, Residential Communities Coordinator, Millikin University, Wednesday, June 19, 2019

At many of our institutions, in our divisions, and within our offices, the “why” is more valuable than the “what”. And don’t we get caught up in the “what” most frequently? Questions such as, “what do you do in your position?” can lead us to answer with the “what”: housing placement, training student leaders and paraprofessionals, student conduct, overseeing an area of residential living spaces on campus, and more - oh, our many hats! How often do you share the “why” of what you do? For those of us 1) in survival mode, 2) experiencing various changes, or 3) caught up in the busy-ness of the summer (“but don’t you enjoy time off when the students are away?”...too soon?), we often look at what comes next instead of asking how our daily and weekly tasks lead ourselves and our organizations into achieving the “why”.

As a new professional, the TED Talk below pushed me further to understanding why we do what we do. I entered the field humbly, yet at war with imposter syndrome. I was fending off a memory of a mock interviewer in the field saying, “you’ll never be hired to work in residence life or housing”, paired with a stronger memory of my first act of boldness, when I firmly said aloud, “thank you for your feedback. I’ll get there on my own path, then”.

Resistance, both alarming and affirming. I caught my breath and moved forward.

My perspective of the mock interviewer led me to believe that I didn’t know my “why” of working with college students from a residential life and housing perspective. I had a phenomenal undergraduate experience that shaped who I was, and when I shared that narrative, many of my peers understood and felt similarly; yet not every seasoned professional accepted my truthful answer and wanted more.

Resistance. Challenge accepted.

I wanted to see students grow. I wanted to contribute new things. I wanted to help. I wanted others to sell me their “why” so i could be part of an achievement-driven team. How grateful I am to have learned the “why” of a place now so near to my heart, to feel affirmed, and to be encouraged to revisit and adapt my “why” as I grow in the field. Not everyone experiences this, but I hope you, dear Reader, will strive for it.

What is my “why” now? Appropriately disruptive. Relationship-building on behalf of the greater good. Justice, both restorative and social. Vulnerability amidst challenge. Acknowledging and striking down broken systems. For me, whatever that looks like paired with my best characteristics - we’re doing it.

According to Simon Sinek, the pattern of achieving your “why” asks the following questions:

  • What is your purpose?

  • What is the cause?

  • What is your belief?

  • Why does your organization exist?

  • Why do you get out of bed in the morning?

  • What is proven to us by your “why”?

Sinek then discusses the Golden Circle and its three sections: the “what”, “how”, and “why”. Like I said, it can be easy to sell what we do and how we do it - those are rational and analytical processes. But the “why” - that innermost section - can be the most challenging and crucial because the “why” gets people on board. Sinek used Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech as the example, citing that 250,000 people attended to hear his belief in changing America, not to hear what he thought America needed during the Civil Rights Era. “He gave the ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, not ‘I Have a Plan’,” says Sinek.


I encourage you now, today, to establish or revisit your ”why” - not just professionally, but also in terms of your wellness- and health-related goals. Allow your goals to resist comparison and recognize your purpose. Fend off the looming imposter syndrome with strength and bravery that has been hidden away waiting to pounce since it began stirring inside of you, waiting for the right moment. I hope that this reflection renews you and brings harmony to you in the face of resistance and challenge.

Video Link here!


Tags:  #wellness #SAPro #SAGrad #GLACUHO #H_W 

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Recharge those batteries, ya’ll!

Posted By Lauren Drogo, University of Indianapolis , Friday, May 17, 2019

You’ve made it! It’s finally May and the end has arrived for the academic year (at least for most of us). It’s been an exhausting, exhilarating, challenging, exciting, and overall growing year for our community -- so, now what? How do we prepare to do this all over again come August? Where can we take space for ourselves in this blurred line work we call student affairs? I’ll tell you this...take comfort in knowing that answer is already inside you.

When we talk about the concept of “recharge”, one often associates it to a battery whether it be in your car or your phone that needs “juice” or “electricity” to bring it to life and help it function. We, as student affairs professionals, need a “charge” every so often in order to keep the engine running or the fire burning within us. Similarly to a battery, how much energy and time we give to charging it up, the longer it will last and function -- the same goes for how we take time to recharge and re-energize each day, or week if we get the opportunity.


As the summer projects begin and the growing to-do lists for the upcoming semester starts to stare you down, remember that you’ll only be able to check things off by first checking in with your own needs. Take advantage of the warmer weather and bring your work outside. Share a meal with co-workers off-campus, away from the office or hall you oversee. Sit and listen to a rejuvenating podcast or song that feeds your soul in the middle of the work day to recenter yourself. Whatever it is that helps bring you back to life, do it.

As a young professional, I have been challenged to find the best ways to recharge myself throughout the week. For me, I find conversations with friends that don’t include “work talk” to give me life. For you, it might be something small or something big. I challenge each of you to take 5 minutes after reading this blog to sit and reflect and write down a few ways to “recharge this summer”. If you need help thinking of ideas, here are a few simple ones you can start with:


Tags:  #faith #wellness #SAPro #SAGrad #spirtuality #H_W 

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The "In-Between" Month

Posted By Nicole DeLiberis, Ed.M Residential Communities Coordinator Millikin University, Sunday, April 21, 2019

Ah, April. The “in-between month”. The post-selection month and pre-graduation month. This is the time where we have a chance to look back on everything that has happened so far this academic year just before campus closes and we wrap up another chapter in the books that are our professional lives. I find myself connected to the world and with people in ways this year how I had not previously connected, and it is both fatiguing (whispers the introvert in me) and fortifying (says the social butterfly). I had decided in January to learn to say “no” when I mean “no” and also to say “yes” to challenging experiences at work and in my personal life. I find myself reflecting most deeply on the new experiences. Can a 5:30am HIIT Cardio Boxing class be a spiritual experience? I’ll let you know when I can feel my arms again, but for now, it seems truly spiritual - it’s a test of mental fortitude as I wait for the timer to go off when we’re conditioning. It’s a shot of a prayer when my arms are wobbling trying to keep the gloves in my defensive position, saying “help me just make it through the next set of warm-up exercises” (yes, even the warm-ups). It’s connection to yourself and to something more that myself and a punching bag. 


While I am certainly not a spirituality expert, I certainly have had my share of spiritual experiences ranging from being in nature to what I would call “answered prayers”. Whatever that looks like for you, I hope you can be encouraged to qualify it into something reasonable and powerful for yourself in your journey of growth.  


It might be helpful to view the concept of spirituality in a pyramid, with “spirituality” as the foundation. Looking up definitions for “spirituality” often brings terms like “ecclesiastical law” and “belonging to a church”. These definitions may not necessarily match the world in which we live today. If I could rewrite the definition to be more general as the foundational base of the Spirituality Pyramid, I would coin it as “deeply personal and subjective experiences to include an idea of believing in something bigger than oneself in order to seek hope and meaning in one’s life”. Spirituality is the overarching “what”.


The next section of the pyramid built on the foundation would then be “faith”, which can be defined generally as a strong trust or confidence in someone or something, or a broad set of beliefs. Faith is the means by which we move from spirituality through religion, if that is the desire. Much like some student development theories, I would assume that the movement is not always linear. Faith is the “how”.


The tippity-top of the pyramid could then be “religion”, or a system of faith and worship, or service to a higher being. Religion is the organized structure of a faith system, a collection of beliefs, traditions, or rituals. Religion is the more specific “what” and “how” you practice those components of the more general faith.


Spirituality is not something that is quantifiable, but rather serves as an experience for an individual. How can we connect and be mindful? What does it look like to be influenced by something more than ourselves? And finally, “how does spirituality teach me to be mindful and caring of my soul?”


For a reminder of caring for your soul, feel free to visit the post I wrote last year called “Soul Care: Take What You Need”.


The importance of understanding the difference among the definitions allows us to break down into more detail where we not only place importance, but also to identify areas in which we may want to grow. Many of us constantly help students to reflect, so this is our time to do the same for ourselves.

Tags:  #Health #GLACUHO #Wellness #mindfulness #reflect 

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Mental Exhaustion: A Combative Series

Posted By Sean Brown, Residence Life Coordinator at Michigan Technological University, Friday, March 15, 2019


 Working in housing and residential life, we’ve all hit those points of sheer mental exhaustion.  Maybe it was on move-in day, when you were on your 15th set of parents telling you exactly why their room wasn’t suitable for their child.  Maybe it was 4am on a duty week when you got your 10th call of the night to go respond to a resident who had decided to take up parkour in the stairwell, but instead fell and hit their head and now needed to go to the hospital.  Maybe it wasn’t anything major, and instead it was on a random week in the middle of November or April when you’re just ready to be done with the semester and get a break. Regardless, most of us have hit points of mental or spiritual exhaustion where we just feel completely empty of energy to give to our students.  We here on the Health and Wellness Committee know we have and we’d like to help you through these times.


During the upcoming year we want to help the professionals in the GLACUHO region learn about practices that can help prevent burnout and mental exhaustion.  Many people seem to have heard of mindful practices before, but far fewer seem to be able to list any or have specific ones they practice. Mindfulness can be as simple as having a box you write down worries and put them in for a few hours to provide some time to walk away from them.  It can also be as simple as walking around campus and listening to the wind moving through the leaves and thinking about why you do the work you do. There’s no single perfect way to do mindfulness and everyone has a different set of strategies that will work best for them.

Practicing mindfulness can have a vast number of benefits on an emotional, mental, and physical level.  It can help you sleep better, lose weight , lower stress, improve attention, and be more positive. The GLACUHO Mental and Spiritual Wellness subcommittee will be providing a number of resources and methods that demonstrate how to practice mindfulness and its benefits.  Here’s what you can expect from us:

  • A monthly blog post on a topic bases around mental and spiritual wellness on the 15th of every month.

  • A monthly podcast on the same topic as the blog that will come out on the 30th of every month.

  • Facebook posts on the GLACUHO page on simple ways you can practice mindfulness and what wellness means to others in the region on a bi-weekly basis.

  • Presentations at the annual conference on a variety of mental and spiritual wellness topics.

Please consider joining us!

Sean Brown

Residence Life Coordinator

Michigan Technological University

Tags:  #wellness #SAPro #SAGrad #GLACUHO #H_W 

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Supervisor wellness: How to avoid becoming a swamp monster

Posted By Grace Konyar, Graduate Resident Director, Ohio University, Monday, August 27, 2018


One of the perks about summer in ResLife is that you are able to focus on your office work and your plans for the following year.  If you are anything like me, you may have decided you were going to completely revamp your year and become the best supervisor there ever was.  Have you done that?  I have.  For two years.  You know what else I have done these past two years?  Become incredibly stressed and overwhelmed.  So much so that my organized, put-together aura became more swamp monster-esqe.  Clearly, I was not focusing on my wellness as a supervisor.


Me, a swamp monster.


So now that you have a nice visual of me, I am going to provide you with some helpful tips for supervisor wellness!


The more individualized you are, the more stress you will have.

When I start planning out my supervision style for the year, I often get it in my head that completely individualizing supervisions with each staff member is a great idea.  While personalizing each supervision makes you seem like an AMAZING supervisor, it also creates a lot of stress for you.  It requires a great deal of planning, preparation, and thought.  The best way to incorporate personalized supervision into your work is to have a standard model for all staff members and make small adjustments from there.  AKA set some boundaries for yourself on what you are willing to do for your staff during supervisions.  It evens out your balancing act and creates some consistency in your schedule. 


Plan for things to not go your way.

One of my favorite things to do is overplan.  I plan out when I am going to bake little treats for my staff, when I am going to distribute information, and when I am going to implement certain teambuilders.  This obviously does not end well for me.  Either I get bogged down with work and class, or my students do.  Luckily, this is built into my plan.  I’ve learned to stop micromanaging my work life, and start opening up my schedule to various possibilities.  One of the keys to this is having a list of things you would like to do at some point throughout the year.  This allows you the flexibility to move activities around or to say “meh, I don’t think I have time to get to that this month.”  It is okay to readjust and take some of your ideas out of the mix.  It does not make you a bad supervisor.


Practice what you preach.

We ALL tell our student staff to practice self care and use their away days from campus.  But do we do the same?  I have found myself responding to problems in my building despite the fact that there is a pro-staff member on duty.  I have also found myself getting texts and calls from student staff members late at night because they too forget that I do not work 24/7.  Something I learned last year:  If I don’t model proper work/life balance, my staff will assume that I am always on call.  Sometimes being a good supervisor means that you do not respond to every call because you are taking time off for yourself.  If I have done my job correctly, my staff should know who to call and understand why I am taking time off.


Don’t be a pushover. Know your limits.

Housing people LOVE to say yes.  Even when we are slowly being engulfed in hours of work, we will still say yes.  Whether it is to our staff, to our department, or to the division, saying yes comes naturally.  IT ALSO MAKES YOUR LIFE STRESSFUL.  Before you say yes to adding something else to your schedule, really take a moment to ask yourself if you can realistically devote enough time to that project to create your best work.  Sometimes it is important to remind others that you have a lot on your plate and need to create balance.


All of these tips I have learned from personal experience.  Honestly, you have probably dealt with the similar problems, but you don’t want to admit that you are putting that stress on yourself.  Don’t worry, I do that all the time.  It’s the reason I wake up looking like a swamp monster.  However, I am also lucky enough to work with students who look at me and say, “You look terrible.  Go do something fun for yourself.”  It’s great!  I’m pretty sure they do it because my swamp monster look haunts their nightmares, but it works! So my last tip for you is...


Make sure that demand for self care goes both ways.

We push our staff members to take care of themselves and they listen to us because we work so closely together.  Why shouldn’t that go the other way?  Our students help make us better supervisors.  Not only because they challenge us, but also because they are willing to be brutally honest with us.  They know us at our best and our worst because they see us nearly everyday.  Listen to them

Tags:  #wellness #SAPro #SAGrad #GLACUHO #H_W #supervisio 

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Soul Care: Take What You Need

Posted By Nicole DeLiberis, Residential Communities Coordinator, Millikin University , Monday, June 25, 2018

Heading into my third year as a professional, I find myself more compelled to seek spiritual experiences as a way of negotiating work and life. So much of the trivial nature of giving to people encourages me to seek answers that I do not - and may not ever - have. When we have an opportunity to truly step away from our work, especially for those of us who live where we work, the moments we encounter in which we choose to be present can be truly awe-inspiring as we reconnect with ourselves and the universe beyond work.

Most of my encounters have occurred within nature. In December 2017, I was grateful to visit my family in New England for the holidays after a particularly grueling Fall semester. I lost my sense of purpose and gratitude for my work, felt the weight of compassion fatigue, and could not shake the feeling of hundreds of conduct folders pushed across my desk - I couldn't let anything go. Alone, I attended a church recommended by a friend, and near that church was a place in my home state I had never visited in my 18 years of living there - Beavertail State Park in Jamestown, Rhode Island. I exited the car and stood in my winter jacket on a rock close to the crashing waves as the cool ocean air hit my face - familiarity. No phone, no alerts or alarms to distract me. After standing there for thirty seconds, the wind picked up and whisked away the losing attitude and the fear of inability and discontentment, replacing it with nothing new except peace. I remember only feeling the same feeling once before that moment, and how refreshed I felt then, and in the twenty minutes standing there after the wind, and on the 45-minute drive back to my childhood home.


While I am not a spiritual wellness expert, I did feel compelled to share the transformative realization that in the work we do constantly giving to others, spiritual connection and wellness is an opportunity to borrow back from the universe and refill ourselves with connection and meaning. For some, spiritual wellness and re-centering involves immersing oneself in nature. One website describes spirituality in three types, two of them being religious and non-religious spirituality. Religious spirituality "involves belief in a being greater than oneself, church, and prayer" with faith and spirit as one, while non-religious spirituality "centers on doing something positive", whether it may be creating with your hands, feeding nourishing your soul back to health separately from religion. There are endless ways to connect spiritually with the universe, which also often leads to emotional wellbeing. Some of those profound spiritual connections come to me in the form of concerts, books for fun, getting tattooed, and serving others outside of the profession. Professionals in our field take endless amounts of time to exhaust terms like "self-care", "wellness", "intentional time", and "work/life balance". Spiritual wellness IS a type of self-care - it's "soul-care". In connecting intentionally and spiritually, we often release control (if only temporarily) to the universe to shape us during moments of connection.



While student affairs professionals tend to be natural givers, we can seize the opportunity to borrow from the universe - this is your permission. Do you want or need to re-center? Take a moment to answer these questions - your Future Self will thank you for thinking of your Present Self. Allow yourself to be open to new experiences and inspiration from unexpected places.


  • Have any big changes happened recently? How have I felt as a result?

  • Is there something I need to borrow from the universe?

  • Is there something I need to healthily borrow from others as I find it on your own?

  • Do I make time for relaxation on my day?

  • Do my beliefs/principles/values guide my decisions and actions?

  • Do I understand my sense of direction or purpose?

  • What are my important relationships?

  • What do I value most?

  • What gives me hope?

For anyone who wants more motivation to search on spirituality, here are some fantastic reads:

Mental Health America: Take Care of Your Spirit - breakdown of different spiritual practices ranging from organized religion to mental health and exploring your deeper self.

Renovaré: Selfish Care versus Soul-Care: a Christian-based blog post on tending to our souls.

Sinclair Ceasar's Blog- an awesome and affirming Student Affairs Professional at Loyola University Maryland in Student Life.


Tags:  #wellness #SAPro #SAGrad #GLACUHO #H_W 

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What time is it? Summertime!

Posted By Dottie Brown, Graduate Resident Director, Ohio University, Wednesday, May 23, 2018


What time is it? Summertime! It’s our vacation! Your first step in contributing to your mental health this summer is to watch a cheesy, yet classic, movie to get you in the summer spirit! (Only slightly joking, everyone can use a little music in their life, right?)

But seriously, some of you have already started your summer assignments, while some of you only recently closed your buildings. Either way, we are finally here! Students are gone, campus feels a little calmer, and you finally feel like you can breathe again. Summer is such a great time to catch up on yourself and your wellbeing. However, how many of you go into the first week of summer super motivated to travel the world, organize your entire office, and catch up on all the sleep you missed throughout the year all at the same time? I know I definitely do. I start aching for summer as soon as the magic of the first snowfall turns into brown slush. “I’ll organize my office this summer,” I tell myself. “I’ll take that trip once the students are gone,” I tell my friends. And the most common one, “I’ll start focusing on myself this summer when I have more free time.”  

I have all these goals floating through my head before the summer even starts, but then BOOM we start preparing for RA training and move-in. Wait, where did the summer go!? This happens way too often for me. I get to the end of the summer and it seems like I never even caught my breath from spring semester closing.  After asking friends for advice and some excessive Pinterest searching, I have developed a few expectations I want to follow this summer in order to achieve my goals and take care of my mental health. Whether you use these expectations, or develop your own, I encourage you to sit down and think about your summer. If you are already a few weeks in, it’s not too late! (Especially if you are already wondering where the time went the last two weeks, I know I sure am!)

  1. Make a List

    You can look at this like your summer bucket list or simply a list of things you want to accomplish this summer. Make your list in a way that you will see it and remember it. I too often make a list on a note in my phone and completely forget it is there. I plan to get some butcher block paper and hang it in my office. Check out the recent Trends article for some examples of mindfulness practices to add to your list to practice each week! This would be a great step in focusing on your mental health this summer. Take one-step further and actually plan when you want to do each item.

  2. It is ok to say no
    Before summer even started, I had already committed to a trip to Cleveland (3 hours), a wedding in Chicago (7 hours) and a trip to Illinois for a conference (8 hours). Now the in-laws and a group of friends are asking to join another trip. I get exhausted just looking at my calendar! Prioritize yourself this summer. Will going on that extra trip make you more tired than you already are? Would it be better for you to stay home and relax or complete something else on your list? It is ok to say no and do what is best for you! This is a great practice to learn. The summer is only a couple months, which isn’t always enough time to accomplish everything.

  3.  Reflect on the previous year
    Now that the students are gone and you have an empty (sometimes creepy) quiet building, try to reflect on the previous year. What did you learn that you want to continue? What are some projects that you were not able to complete that you want to do now? It is always encouraging to reflect on your growth and the positive things that happened.

    Not into making bucket lists and plans? I encourage you to at least reflect on your summer and what you want it to look like. Try to focus on your mental health this summer before the hustle and bustle of the year starts again. Do something for you, try something new, and have fun this summer!



Tags:  #wellness #SAPro #SAGrad #GLACUHO #H_W 

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Posted By Molly Hutchcroft, MSW. Residence Hall Director at Rockford University, Friday, May 18, 2018


For starters, this is a very individualized concept. For me, it was a concept that I was unfamiliar with until I was in my third year of undergrad at DePaul University. At first, it became a concept just in relation to mental health. You know, taking space to not be stressed or overwhelmed. However, soon after, I realized it is okay to take up physical space too. Now I’m not talking about taking more space than you need or taking space from others, but you are allowed to take up the space you need and to not feel bad about it. If this is a struggle you can relate to, I want to give you a little background of how I came to this conclusion. I hope to express how it is a journey and to offer some takeaways for you to find your comfort as well. 

The first time I realized I was uncomfortable taking my space was after an activity during the Resident Advisor training (RATraining if you will) retreat. This would have been about 5 years ago. We were given a list of scenarios and we had to rate how comfortable we would be in that situation. Well, one of the scenarios listed was something like “a 250lb woman is walking down the isle of the plane and you realize her assigned seat is next to you.” Being overweight myself and having fairly low self-esteem at the time, I was immediately embarrassed and concerned about what others were going to rate that scenario. When it came time to share thoughts, that was the one scenario I was worried people would talk about. Only one person expressed their thoughts with that scenario, but even with a rating of “slightly uncomfortable,” it was enough for me to overthink this scenario the rest of the retreat. 

After this experience, I started to look back at all the times I felt uncomfortable taking up the space I needed. Anytime I took public transportation, sitting in a lecture hall, anytime I went to the theatre, anytime I was on a plane. The list was endless and I started to think back on what that looked like and how I behaved. I looked back on how many times I apologized for slightly bumping someone (even if it wasn’t from something that I did) and how tightly I would tense my muscles trying to confine myself to a smaller space, just so I wouldn’t inconvenience those around me. However, on each of the experiences I looked back on, not once was I taking up more space than I needed or taking space from others. So then why did I feel uncomfortable? Was there something about how others behaved around me? Was there something they would say? The answer was no, not really. There may have been the occasional look here and there, but overall no one was outwardly disrespectful or judgmental. 

With this seemingly minor epiphany, I started to gradually make changes to my daily routines and how I interacted with others.  The first change I started to make was when I would take the CTA to get around Chicago. If there was an open seat next to someone, I would sit there. Previously, I would just stand because I didn’t want that person to be uncomfortable. But I realized that if the person was uncomfortable sitting next to me, they could get up and move or stand. I had no reason not to take the seat. What should come as no surprise, is that nobody ever got up and moved. No one had a problem with me sitting next to them. As I realized this, it felt as if a small weight had lifted and I felt a little freer to take up my own space. Most of all, I realized that I held more control over my space than I thought I did. I realized that I had the ability to change how I looked at space.


This viewpoint gradually moved into other settings. For example in restaurants, I started speaking up when I felt uncomfortable where I was sitting. The biggest example of this was when being asked if I would prefer a booth or a table. I’m rarely comfortable in booths, yet I never used to say I preferred a table. Now I say it. Another big step I took was to stop apologizing so much. Of course if I’m at fault for bumping into someone else or invading someone else’s space, I do apologize. However, a most notable scenario of what I used to do was that I would move over if there were people walking toward me on the sidewalk. Of course I want them to have room to walk by, however if there are three people walking toward me that are taking up the width of the sidewalk, I no longer move off the sidewalk to let them pass. I’m only one person, I should not have to move over for three. They can take responsibility for arranging themselves.

Gradually, I was more and more aware of how I had previously attempted to give my space to others rather than to use it myself. I continue to find myself in these situations and I continue to struggle with standing up for myself. Like I said in the beginning, it’s a journey. I don’t know how many of you will relate to these experiences, but I do hope that you were able to reflect on some experiences you have had that may have made you uncomfortable. I hope that you are able to look at those experiences and process what you may be able to do to stand up for yourself a little more often and to take the space you need. 

A few takeaways from these experience and what I hope you gain from hearing my story:

1.    Strangers are probably not thinking about you nearly as much as you think they are.

2.    It’s helpful and sometimes necessary to put yourself into uncomfortable positions.

3.    Be kind to yourself.If you can’t be kind to yourself, how can you expect others to be kind to you?

Tags:  #wellness #SAPro #SAGrad #GLACUHO #H_W 

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Redefining the Conversation about Religion, Faith, and Spirituality

Posted By Sean Brown, MS. Residence Life Coordinator Michigan Technological University, Friday, March 16, 2018

 When considering appropriate conversations for work, which topics do you most actively try to avoid?  Your answer may include politics, money, family, personal issues, etc., but I would hazard a guess that nearly everyone would include religion as one of these topics.  If you do a quick Google search on “topics never to discuss at work,” you will find that religion is one of the top topics listed on every website as things to avoid. In my experience, this is especially true for professionals working at public universities.  Today, we’re going to break some social norms and discuss why talking about religion, faith, and spirituality are important for Student Affairs professionals.


The first part of this conversation needs to be looking at what the words religion, faith, and spirituality mean.  Many people use these terms interchangeably. These three topics are related, but do differ in some fundamental ways.  All three allow a person to define their place in the universe, their reason for existence. For the purpose of our discussion, I will take a moment to talk about each term.  

To begin with the most general term we will look at the concept of being spiritual.  Spirituality can be seen as a form of umbrella term for many other concepts, such as faith and religion.  A person can be very spiritual, but be non-religious or not hold to a faith. Spirituality does not necessarily mean a belief in a higher power.  Instead, spirituality can serve more as an individual’s mantra or a personal view about the meaning for existence. Many professionals who are familiar with the Wellness Wheel model will remember that spirituality is a component.  


With spirituality being largely an umbrella term, faith ties in a more personal component.  One’s faith is highly individualistic and can often be undefinable. Faith can be tied to religion or it can be free standing.  You could have two people of the same religion, who have very different faiths. From personal experiences I have met many people who have faith in a higher power, but don’t necessarily associate with a specific religion.


Finally, we arrive at the topic of religion.  Of the three, this is the topic I have found to be most touchy for people.  The fact that people feel uncomfortable with this topic is unfortunate because at its core religion is meant to allow people to express the inexpressible and celebrate shared beliefs.  The discomfort people can feel can stem from harm that has been done to a person that can be associated with a specific religion or certain doctrines that a religion holds that make people feel targeted and attacked.  Religion tends to be more organized than faith and spirituality, but with a significant personal component. Religion plays a major role in the lives of many students and professionals, and needs to be considered when looking at some peoples holistic wellness.


While uncomfortable, it is important to have conversations about these topics.  My rationale behind saying this is two fold. First, in working to support and help develop students and co-workers, we must be able to have conversations about values they may hold.  These conversations may include support for their spiritual development or push-back to help broaden their horizons. Religion, faith, and spirituality can be a great way to get at the core of a student’s identity and allow them to express their values.  Second, there are significant health benefits that come from working to develop a healthy spiritual life. I use the term spiritual here very intentionally because it encompasses mindfulness and reflection, which is highly important in all aspects of Student Affairs.  In a study, Small(2014) found that participating in regular spiritual practices, Student Affairs professionals were better able to persevere during hard times and resist burnout in times of crisis.


Throughout the upcoming year, the Spiritual and Mental Wellness subcommittee will be exploring more topics relating to spirituality, faith, and religion.  We will provide some concrete ways for professionals to practice healthy spiritual practices and hopefully provide a safe place for people to begin to have uncomfortable conversations.  I have included some good reads below in case you’d like to start learning more. We hope you decide to join us again!

Thanks for reading,

Sean Brown

Additional readings:

  • Allen, K. E., & Kellom, G. E. (2001). The role of spirituality in student affairs and staff development. New Directions For Student Services, 2001(95), 47.

  • Andrade, A. (2014). Using fowler's faith development theory in student affairs practice. College Student Affairs Leadership, 1(2).

  • Chickering, A., Dalton, J., & Stamm, L. (2006). Encouraging authenticity & spirituality in higher education. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

  • Daloz Parks, S. (2000). Big questions, worthy dreams: Mentoring young adults in their search for meaning, purpose, and faith. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

  • Fowler, J. (1981). Stages of faith: The psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

  • Kumar, S. (2015). Influence of spirituality on burnout and job satisfaction: A study of academic professionals in Oman. South Asian Journal Of Management, 22(3), 137-175.

  • Love, P., & Talbot, D. (1999). Defining spiritual development: A missing consideration for student affairs. NASPA Journal, 37, 361–376.

  • Small, J. L. (2014). Understanding change: spirituality, faith, religion, and life purpose in student affairs. About Campus, 19(2), 11-16. (Referenced Work)

  • Winterowd, C. & Harrist, S. & Thomason, N. & Worth, S. & Carlozzi, B. (2005). The relationship of spiritual beliefs and involvement with the experience of anger and stress in college students. Journal of College Student Development 46(5), 515-529.

Tags:  #faith #wellness #SAPro #SAGrad #spirtuality 

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