The Harvard Chaplains offer spiritual support to the community and serve as a great resource for graduate students. Harvard has over 30 spiritual advisors representing many traditions including Humanism (atheists, agnostics), and these Chaplains provides pastoral support and guidance to students, faculty, and staff.
New this year, the University has appointed two full-time staff members to join the Chaplains team. Reverend Dr. Lucy Forster-Smith serves as the Sedgwick Chaplain to the University and Khalil Abdur-Rashid joins Harvard as the University’s first Muslim chaplain.
Whether connecting students to resources or providing them counsel as they navigate their studies, these chaplains understand that graduate school is hard. Forster-Smith states, “Also, there are pivotal moments in graduate school when one is away from home or family or creating a new home, establishing roots in a new place.”
Abdur-Rashid is finishing his doctor of liberal arts degree and can relate to the challenges of graduate study. He appreciates that graduate students can pose profound questions and new realizations and outcomes. “In graduate school, I was exposed to different types of thought,” he states, “secular thought, sometimes antagonist literature, and I found that challenging, but I see now how that was helpful to my study and understanding of different world-views.”
In his first few months on campus, Abdur-Rashid has noticed that graduate students are particularly interested in discussions of faith and how it intersects with their academic discipline or area of study. “It is the interdisciplinization of Islam. Students trying to understand how their academic study can be enhanced by their understanding of Muslim faith.” Abdur-Rashid leads a weekly study circle on Fridays at Dudley House, which allows students to explore specific texts through discussion and ask questions such as, “how do I use faith texts to support my challenges and opportunities?”
Forster-Smith sees herself as someone who can assist graduate students trying to connect with a spiritual community. “Graduate students may want to seek out a religious community to support their family while studying at Harvard,” she explains. “Perhaps they want their children to participate in Sunday school or they want to find resources and community for their spouse who may not speak English.”
Chaplains assist graduate students across many of the challenges they might experience. Sometimes they connect students to grief support, help them celebrate life events (marriage, baptisms, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs), connect graduate student families to community resources, or simply listen to a student’s academic experience. Chaplains also can assist graduate students in thinking about the big questions, such as “what am I doing with my life and how am I meaning making?”
Both Forster-Smith and Abdur-Rashid are available to support graduate students with pastoral care or spiritual and personal confidential conversations. They can be reached by e-mail at Lucy_Forster-Smith@harvard.edu and Khalil_Abdur-Rashid@harvard.edu.
Students can learn more about the Harvard Chaplains by visiting chaplains.harvard.edu, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or calling 617-495-5529.