By Belen Edwards
When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the University to tranisition to virtual programming, Spiritual Life took on the unique challenge of creating opportunities for students to stay connected while living off campus.
“We had two questions that helped us move forward,” said Seher Siddiqee, Assistant Director of Spiritual Life and Advisor for Muslim Affairs. “First was, ‘what are current programs that we can move online?’ And, ‘what are other things that students, staff, and faculty may be looking for that we can offer in this new reality?’”
Spiritual Life response was to create both live programming and pre-recorded programming. With classes still taking place and members of the University community scattered across several time zones, this pre-recorded programming helps make Spiritual Life’s services more accessible.
Programming featured on the Spiritual Life website includes daily reflection prompts, instructional yoga videos, and pre-recorded Twenty Minutes Still meditation sessions. UChicago community members can also find online coloring pages, coffee and tea recipes, and relaxing Spotify playlists on the site.
When it came to live programming, Spiritual Life staff wanted to re-create the environment of their office to the best of their abilities. “A lot of what we do is provide a space so people can come into our office and hang out and do work,” said Siddiqee. “That’s how a lot of people connect with us, and it’s how we came up with our virtual living room.”
Students can join the virtual living room Monday through Friday from 9:30 to 11 AM and 2 to 3 PM CDT. “Our student staff members host this virtual living space,” said Siddiqee. “They check in with people if they want a chat, or if they just want company while they do work, this is a space for that as well.”
Spiritual Life also hosts coffee and chai chats in the virtual living room. Community members can speak with Siddiqee; Jigna Shah, Assistant Dean of Rockefeller Chapel and Director of Spiritual Life; and Maurice Charles, Dean of Rockefeller Chapel, throughout the week. Many of Spiritual Life’s religious advisors are also offering office hours online.
While these chats are conducted in a group setting, Siddiqee said that “we’re also open to individual meetings with folks if they need that. We’re really trying to create spaces for people to connect and ask for what they need. Even if they aren’t sure of what they need, we can help them tease it out by looking through our programming.”
Spiritual Life is also continuing its regular programming, including Bring Your Own Spirits and Snacks, where students and religious advisors have casual conversations centered around religious and spiritual themes; Game Night; and a Harry Potter and the Sacred Text reading group, when participants discuss a specific chapter from Harry Potter and how it relates to a weekly theme.
“Our programs give people a chance to talk to others about what’s happening, but they can also a be a place to not think about it,” said Siddiqee. “That’s the great thing about our Harry Potter group, we can just talk about Harry Potter for an hour and a half. It can just be a time where we can do things we really enjoy.”
Even as Spiritual Life moves its normal programming online, Siddiqeee stressed that life right now isn’t normal. “We’re navigating an ever-changing world,” she said. “Cultivating routine right now is really important, as is connecting with people and giving yourself a break. Our office is focused on giving people a space where they can do that.”