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Student Group Launches Peer Educator Program for Spirituality

By Megan M. Ross
By Caroline S. Engelmayer and Michael E. Xie, Crimson Staff Writers

Harvard College Interfaith Forum announced plans to launch a peer educator program for spirituality in undergraduate residential Houses last week; the program is slated to officially begin in the fall.

The peer educators, dubbed “Facilitators of Religious, Ethical, and Spiritual Inquiry,” will comprise undergraduates who will “facilitate conversations, journaling exercises, meditation practices, and other activities,” according to an online application for the program. The Interfaith Forum intends these activities to engage students both College-wide and more specifically within the upperclassman Houses.

Benjamin J. Schafer ’19, president of the Interfaith Forum, said in an interview Sunday that he believes the high level of engagement among individual House affiliates will give the FRESIs a good opportunity to interact with students.

“The House system is such a beautiful thing in that people really engage in their House communities unlike other stuff,” Schafer said. “I can host a campus-wide dinner and have 12 people show up or I could host a house-wide dinner and have 16 to 18 people show up.”

The FRESI initiative is modeled after the currently active Diversity Peer Educators program, Schaffer added.

“We’re taking our cues from the Diversity Peer Educators program,” Schaffer said. “They’ve been really successful this year in running House program that has been meaningful.”

Diversity Peer Educators—a team of 20 trained undergraduates who conduct outreach for the College’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion—organize student dialogues across campus and hold workshops for a number of student organizations.

The launch of the program resulted from conversations with chaplains, House faculty deans, and administrators at the Office of Student Life, including Roland S. Davis, associate dean of diversity and inclusion, according to Schaffer.

“This program came out of conversations of how we engage the Harvard community in such a way that people have to talk about religious spiritual and ethical life, and we worked really closely with a lot of people,” Schafer said. “The Freshman Dean’s Office has been super helpful, Dean Davis from the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion has been a really great resource for us.”

The FRESI program is the first step in a longer journey to found an office for religious life at the College, Schafer said.

“Harvard doesn’t have a multifaith chaplain. Harvard doesn’t have an office of religious life,” Schafer said. “But just going in and saying, ‘Hey we want these two things,’ is not enough.”

“It’s really building the infrastructure to say, ‘We now have a peer educator program that an office of religious life could fund and administer and be a part of,’” he added.

The facilitators will be paid at least $300 for their work each year, according to the application.

—Staff writer Caroline S. Engelmayer can be reached at caroline.engelmayer@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @cengelmayer13.

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