My interest in spirituality in higher education began as I set my topic for my graduate thesis that investigated spiritual motivations for civic engagement among students. College is not just a place of academic, intellectual, and philosophical growth, but it also a place where students are seeking out their spirituality identity. The university environment is a place where students are beginning to question to values and beliefs that they might have grown up with as they search to authenticate and make their belief unique and their own. In fact, a large majority of students (75%) are interested in searching for meaning and purpose in their lives.
Probably the most interesting findings from the landmark study of Spirituality and Higher Education by Alexander Astin, Helen Astin, and Jennifer Lindholm surrounded the idea of growth in equanimity, how one finds meaning in the day-to-day life through meditation and internal reflection. The researchers found that there was growth in grade point average, leadership skills, psychological well-being, college satisfaction (retention!), and self-reported ability to get along with people from different backgrounds.
Spirituality is not necessarily connected with religion, but I really like the way Danah Zohar defines it as the practice through which a person seeks to find meaning and purpose as they explore themselves, others, and the world. Astin, Astin, and Lindholm add that it also points to the inner subjective life and develops personal values, the sense of personal existence, and the connection to oneself and the world.
As evident in this study, two things immediately jump out to me. First, students are interested in talking about about spirituality, and spiritual growth leads to positive outcomes for students. As professional advisors, mentors, and leaders, we are doing a disservice to our students if we do not build conversations with them around their spiritual being.
But the question is, how do we do it without being afraid?
As the leader, you must recognize that you are in a position of power and it is not your role to convert anyone to anything. Our role is that of the empathetic listener seeking to advance the development of students through guidance. The way we structure our programs in our office involves a lot of one-on-one advising and bi-weekly meetings with our student leaders that helps builds rapport and also creates a culture of conversation.
The questions we ask as civic mentors are designed around learning outcomes that have been selected for these programs that hope to enhance identity, purpose, and ethos. These meetings are filled with questions like value identification, key figures in one’s life, how they want to leave their mark, how leadership become important in their life, social issues, and their life’s purpose. On top of gaining confidence in their oral communication, students are identifying how their actions have been formed by their beliefs. In our office, we are not just interested in talking to students about careers, but also talking to students about how to connect what they find meaningful in their life to their future plans.
Our students want to have these conversations; don’t be afraid to get deep and discuss.
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Podcast With Living Your Values & Updates from Tom and Dustin