In March when the Covid-19 pandemic cleared college campuses across the country, many students were left unsure of how they would finish out the semester and keep in contact with their friends. Unfortunately, many students also found themselves suddenly facing unemployment, food insecurity, extreme financial strain, unsafe family or housing conditions, uncertainty surrounding their federal student visas, and even the threat of homelessness. The sudden uncertainty of the situation left a lot of students anxious, and struggling to cope. In such an unfamiliar situation, leaders of all kinds on college campuses tried, and sometimes failed, to know how to communicate effectively and support students accordingly.
I had the opportunity to speak with a handful of spiritual leaders at Boston University and to listen to their reflections on where they succeeded and where they wish they would have done better over the last 9 months. Overall, the leaders, a mix of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim chaplains, felt the same kind of blind-sided panic that the students experienced. They received information moments before, if not at the same time, as the students. They didn’t blame the university, understanding that things moved very quickly from hour to hour and even moment to moment during the week that decisions were being made in early March, however, they did feel the nature of the situation made it very difficult to respond to the needs of their students constructively and supportively.  Students and faculty were given very few resources and little support to fully grasp and cope with the spiritual, emotional, and sometimes financial, impact of the pandemic. In attempting to communicate logistics effectively, the University often neglected the emotional, mental, financial, and spiritual well-being of the students and the faculty. All parties were left holding a lot of information, but very few tools to integrate the information into their lived reality.
Studies on instances of trauma following natural disasters and events of terrorism have shown that religion and spirituality play an important role in helping people cope with difficult and traumatic events.  One study on the trauma of the U.S. in the aftermath of 9/11 said that religion and spirituality may offer a framework for adjusting to and contextualizing events and experiences in a way that results in more positive affect after the dust settles.  Human beings lean into religious and spiritual affiliations following traumatic experiences in an effort to look for meaning and comfort beyond trauma. Thema Bryant-Davis and Eunice Wong say that people begin to look for the sacred in the midst of trauma recovery because they need to make meaning out of what happened, or what is happening to them.  The practices, rituals, actions, or beliefs could be anything that draws a survivor of trauma closer to whatever it is that they hold sacred.  Turning to spiritual things is also sometimes encouraged in survivors of trauma or refugees by spiritual leaders or mental health professionals, because it offers a way to turn toward a more positive or holistic view of past experiences. 
Spiritual care on college campuses in the wake
Overall, there seems to be an overarching belief that engaging in a community of faith or in spiritual practices and support systems during and after particularly difficult or traumatic events allows for people to cope with and recover from jarring, emotional experiences. Spiritual care on college campuses in the wake of Covid-19 is, and is going to continue to be, critically important. Anecdotally, the spiritual leaders from BU agreed that currently they are really struggling to connect with students and have limited resources to try to reach students who may be hurting. Students are probably not receiving the spiritual support they may need, and worst of all, they may not know where to look for it if they need it. While I cannot offer the answers or highlight one small thing that will make all the difference, I believe it is important to point out the need and to ask universities how they can support the spiritual well-being of their students when extreme circumstances require drastic changes without notice.
 Anonymous Interview with Six Boston University Chaplains, November 16, 2020.
 Leola Dyrud Furman, et. All, “Reflections on Collective Trauma, Faith, and Service Delivery to Victims of Terrorism and Natural Disaster: Insights from Six National Studies,” Social Work and Christianity 43:1 (Spring, 2016), 75-76.
 Daniel N. McIntosh, Michael J. Poulin, Roxane Cohen Silver, and E. Alison Holman, "The distinct roles of spirituality and religiosity in physical and mental health after collective trauma: a national longitudinal study of responses to the 9/11 attacks," Journal of Behavioral Medicine 34, no. 6 (2011): Gale Academic OneFile.
 Thema Bryant-Davis, and Eunice C. Wong, "Faith to Move Mountains: Religious Coping, Spirituality, and Interpersonal Trauma Recovery." The American Psychologist 68, no. 8 (2013): 675-676.
 Bryant-Davis and Wong, “Faith to Move Mountains,” 675-676.
 Bryant-Davis and Wong, “Faith to Move Mountains,” 679.
Bryant-Davis, Thema, and Wong, Eunice C. "Faith to Move Mountains: Religious Coping, Spirituality, and Interpersonal Trauma Recovery." The American Psychologist 68, no. 8 (2013): 675-84.
Furman, Leola Dyrud, Perry W. Benson, Bernard Moss, Torill Danbolt, Einar Vetvik, and Edward Canda. "Reflections on Collective Trauma, Faith, and Service Delivery to Victims of Terrorism and Natural Disaster: Insights from Six National Studies." Social Work and Christianity 43, no. 1 (Spring, 2016): 74-94.
McIntosh, Daniel N., Michael J. Poulin, Roxane Cohen Silver, and E. Alison Holman. "The distinct roles of spirituality and religiosity in physical and mental health after collective trauma: a national longitudinal study of responses to the 9/11 attacks." Journal of Behavioral Medicine 34, no. 6 (2011): 497+. Gale Academic OneFile.
Chloe Mclaughlin is a 2nd year Master of Divinity student at the Boston University School of Theology. She is passionate about helping spiritual leaders learn skills in conflict communication and also enjoys writing and reading work in practical theology and leadership. Chloe currently engages in conflict and communication work through BU’s Marsh Chapel and the Boston Theological Interreligious Consortium.
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