Niebuhr Center shifts focus to student affairs amid concerns

Syeda Sameeha

In an effort to retain students, the Niebuhr Center has shifted its focus to include the Office of Student Affairs.

According to a campus wide email sent on October 4 by Assistant Dean of Students and director of the Niebuhr Center, Michelle DeLuca, the center’s new focus will include support for first-year students such as a specialized first-year seminar course for open majors, academic coaching for open majors, and a Niebuhr Faculty Fellowship position to aid these students.

EC chaplain Scott Matheney explained the primary focus of this shift is to retain first-year students into their next years at the institution.

“There's clearly a concern about making sure that the first-year students are retained into their second year, into their third year, and into their fourth year,” said Matheney.

Matheney also emphasized this expansion is an attempt to open the Niebuhr Center to all students, not just students interested in religion.

“The goal is to help every student, not just those who choose to engage in the Niebuhr Center work,” said Matheney. “This is an attempt to try to broaden it and make it much larger so that its not narrowly specific to certainly Christians. If you look at where I sense it's going in many ways, the language is not secular but broader.”

Some campus members, including several trustees at the October 11-13 Board of Trustee meetings, expressed concerns about whether the Niebuhr Center’s focus on student affairs would defer from the original direction of the center, to focus on the Niebuhr legacy of spiritual life and social justice.

“I would be very sad if Niebuhr strayed away from that and if it became strictly just about retention,” remarked Muslim Student Association president Obaidullah Kholwadia.

Kholwadia also added, “If we're being real about spiritual/interfaith aspect, it is not a huge prominent thing on campus, so I figured [the college] just thought we could still keep that while using it for something else.”

Matheney believes the spiritual and social justice aspect of the Niebuhr will still remain through his chaplaincy work but understands the concerns because the focus has shifted.

“How much time, money, and energy does it have is the question”, said Matheney.