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Clarifying our Relationship with the Yale Chaplain’s Office

A message from the Coordinator of Humanist Life:

The news that our application for membership in Yale Religious Ministries (YRM) was not accepted has caught the attention of the media. As more people are discussing the decision, I wanted to take the opportunity to respond to some questions that have arisen and clarify a few things about our relationship with Yale University and the Yale Chaplain’s Office.

Did the Yale Chaplain’s Office “reject” the YHC?

No. While our application for membership in Yale Religious Ministries was not accepted, the Yale Chaplain’s Office has made it clear to us that this decision does not represent a “rejection” of our organization or of Humanist students at Yale. Rather, it reflects a need for further dialogue and deeper relationships. In my initial post on the decision, I said:

We see this [decision] as an indication that the idea of Humanists participating in interfaith groups, and having campus resources comparable to those offered to religious groups, is still an emerging conversation. We are a new organization without a proven track record of serving students, and this is a new idea for Yale and more broadly a new idea for many campuses. So we will continue to focus on establishing and building our community, but also on outreach and education — on building relationships with religious groups, learning from them, and educating them about who we are, what we believe in, and why we seek this kind of recognition and collaboration… We remain dedicated to building a relationship of goodwill with the Yale Chaplain’s Office, and to collaborating with them as much as possible. There is much more work to be done, and we are just getting started. From the very beginning of the YRM membership application process I saw our application as the start of a new and exciting conversation — regardless of the outcome. Today, I remain eager to advance that conversation about community, support, and resources for the nonreligious at Yale.

The decision about our application has spurred some of this dialogue, and these discussions will continue as we move forward in our work. But while the Yale Chaplain’s Office did not accept our application, they have been very clear that this decision does not signify an end to our work together. (For more on this, please see “Our Relationship with the Yale Chaplain’s Office” in my initial post on the YRM decision.) In fact, the opposite is true — the Yale Chaplain’s Office is already proactively seeking out additional ways to partner with us. Thus, I hope it is clear to all concerned parties that the Yale Chaplain’s Office did not reject the YHC — rather, while they did not accept our application for membership in Yale Religious Ministries at this time, they have repeatedly emphasized their support and desire for collaboration.

So does the Yale Chaplain’s Office truly support Humanist students and the work of the YHC?

In her letter informing us of the decision about our YRM application, Yale University Chaplain Sharon Kugler wrote the following, quoted with permission:

I want to emphasize that I wholeheartedly support the existence and growth of the Yale Humanist Community and look forward to finding ways to partner on specific projects as well as to collaborate on issues of shared concern as we move forward. The Yale Chaplain’s Office wants to continue to nurture a friendly and supportive relationship with YHC, much as the Secular Students Association has had with us for years. I count you as a valuable resource for all our students, but especially for those who have needs that can be best met through the engagement of a secular humanist perspective. One example of this would be that in times of campus tragedy I would wish to include you among the many voices and places of care for the whole community.

Throughout this entire process, the Yale Chaplain’s Office has underscored — and demonstrated — their sincere support for Humanist students at Yale, a sentiment that preceded the YHC’s existence. Additionally, they have emphasized their support for the YHC as an institution with unique resources to offer Yale students. In fact, just this week I met several times with Sharon Kugler and other members of the Yale Chaplain’s Office to strategize how we might collaborate moving forward, and I am pleased to say that the Yale Chaplain’s Office is making good on their promise to support Humanist students and the YHC. Stay tuned for more on that soon.

Does the Yale Chaplain’s Office think that atheists, Humanists, and other nonreligious people shouldn’t be included in interfaith work?

Absolutely not. In fact, Humanist students have been involved in, and supported by, the Yale Chaplain’s Office long before the YHC even existed. For example, Humanist students have been a part of the Yale Chaplain’s Office IRLC (Inter-Religious Leadership Council) — which is made up of the student leaders of the different religious and spiritual organizations — from day one of IRLC. With our plans for collaboration moving forward, and our growing relationship of goodwill, Humanist involvement in interfaith programs at Yale will only increase.

How is the YHC affiliated with Yale, if not through Yale Religious Ministries?

In addition to our expanding relationship with the Yale Chaplain’s Office, we have several other ties to Yale. Our growing Faculty Board of Advisers includes Yale faculty members Paul Bloom, Yarrow Dunham, David Rand, Laurie Santos, and Stephen Stearns. As Coordinator of Humanist Life, I was recently named a Fellow of Yale’s Davenport College. This formal affiliation means that I am recognized by the university, will be working out of Davenport College, and have a space at Davenport to meet with students (click here to sign up for a meeting). Additionally, YHC officially supports two Yale student groups: the undergraduate Humanist Society, and the Open Party at Yale Divinity School. We are also exploring additional ways to affiliate with Yale, such as through Dwight Hall, and will keep you updated as we can.

So how exactly will the YHC and the Yale Chaplain’s Office collaborate?

We will be able to share more about this soon, but we’ve already begun to plan collaborative events to host speakers, student discussion groups, and service projects. As always, watch this site for more information on upcoming events!

IMG_8899_webI hope that this post has helped to clarify some questions or concerns you may have had about our relationship with the Yale Chaplain’s Office and with Yale University. You are always welcome to get in touch with me to discuss this or anything else. I hope to see you at one of our events soon!

Best wishes,

Chris Stedman

Coordinator of Humanist Life


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