Lehigh’s Hillel Society has received the Indispensable Campus Partner Award for its Senior Greek and Religion Initiative, which is spearheaded by Rabbi Seth Goren, director of Jewish student life and associate university chaplain.
Each year, Hillel’s Schusterman International Center recognizes Hillel organizations for excellence in at least one area of Hillel’s movement-wide strategic plan. The Senior Greek and Religion Initiative of Lehigh’s Hillel Society involved Jewish and non-Jewish students.
Tim Wilkinson, director of fraternity and sorority affairs, nominated Goren in conjunction with the Hillel Vision and Values Award program.
“Since I began working with Seth in the summer of 2008, I have had the opportunity to work with a man who truly believes in the spirit of collaboration, inclusion and student learning,” said Wilkinson. “Not only has Seth provided Lehigh’s Hillel with the opportunities and advisement truly needed to find their proper place in the Lehigh community, but he has served as a counselor, guide and friend to a myriad of students, faculty and staff.”
The Senior Greek and Religion Initiative engages Jewish and non-Jewish Greek students in ongoing conversations on spirituality as they prepare to graduate from Lehigh and enter the working world. The group of eight to 10 students meets monthly.
The students’ backgrounds mirror what Goren believes to be Lehigh’s religious demographics. Members of the group identify with a variety of different religions, with Judaism and Roman Catholicism strongly represented. At least one person in the group does not identify as a member of a specific religion.
“Our spirituality meetings provide an outlet for us to reflect on all areas of our lives,” said participant Derek Lutchko ‘10. “It’s a great opportunity to be introspective because we’re having conversations that just don’t happen every day on campus.”
The first few sessions of the discussion group were facilitated by Goren or Jessica Diehl, Lehigh’s Greek Life Leadership coordinator. Topics have ranged from one’s personal and spiritual journey to finding community and to identifying personal values on a religious and spiritual level. As the participants close in on their final semester at Lehigh, Goren wants to focus on their future.
“With all that’s going on in our lives, it’s often hard to take time out to think about spirituality and values or to reflect on how we make meaning out of our experiences. We often get caught up in our day-to-day lives and fail to get a broader sense of where we’ve been or to plot out a long-term trajectory of where we hope to go,” said Goren.
According to Lloyd Steffen, university chaplain and professor of religion studies, the Greek-focused discussion group was started because the Greek community is a very large, important constituency on Lehigh’s campus. It was a natural move to think about a religious outreach to this part of the community.
“The purpose of the conversations is not to integrate religion but to invite people into conversation about issues and questions they may not ordinarily talk about with one another,” said Steffen.
While this particular initiative has focused on Greek seniors and their personal spiritual and religious reflections, Goren is working to organize ongoing small-group conversations open to all Lehigh students and to members of the community as a whole.
“We currently have one staff group that’s been operating since last February and we will be starting up another one at the beginning of March,” says Goren. “The Brodhead Gryphons have also been having monthly discussions this year.”
On winning the award, Goren can’t help but share his excitement.
“It’s a testament to what can come from partnering across different areas of the university and what we can achieve when we reach out beyond our primary areas of professional focus to try something new,” he says.
“All in all, I feel unbelievably fortunate to have some amazing colleagues who have made themselves available as resources as we work to raise the profile not only of Jewish life at Lehigh, but of religious and spiritual life as a whole.”
Story by Becca Raphael
Posted on Tuesday, February 23, 2010