Conference talks private, public life

As future pastors and religious educators, the students of Yale Divinity School will be expected to reconcile their public roles with their private lives. To prepare them for a successful transition into their professional lives, this year’s All School Conference — which started Monday and runs through Friday — aims to promote collective discussion on the theme of “Private Selves and Public Identities.”

Conference co-coordinator Joshua Rinas DIV ’06 said that the conference was started in 1999, a period when the Divinity School was going through turbulent times and searching for a new identity. He said the conference fills an important role by providing a place for students to interact with people outside the Divinity School community.

“It is important for students to understand what it means to have a personal life and a very public role,” said Divinity School professor Kristen Leslie, who is scheduled to preach at the conference’s concluding chapel service on Friday. “Instead of making students guess, this conference is giving them lessons in professional ethics.”

Each day the conference focuses on a different aspect of leading both a private and public life, Leslie Woods DIV ’05, who helped coordinate the conference, said.

On Monday, Divinity School professors David Kelsey and David Bartlett kicked off the conference by addressing the issue of social selves, Rinas said.

“They taught us what it is like to be a social being within the ministerial and academic context,” he said.

On Tuesday, the focus shifted to material selves, featuring Allison Booth of Equal Exchange Coffee, who hosted a fair-trade coffee hour to start the day. Booth said she tries to encourage religious groups to buy fair-trade products as a way to put their faith into action. She said that her efforts were very well received by the students, noting that the students seemed to think spiritual leaders have a duty to be involved in political activism.

On the same day, Noelle Damico, of the University for the Poor — the educational arm of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign — gave a lecture on economic human rights. Damico spoke about the efforts of Florida’s Immokalee workers to improve their working conditions through a boycott against Taco Bell, a major purchaser of the tomatoes they produce. She said that, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 10 percent of agricultural workers are migrants, many of whom are illegally paid and currently working against their will, while many others are suffering because of low wages and lack of health benefits.

“Yale divinity students care deeply about how to live their faith by becoming responsible consumers,” Damico said.

On Wednesday, the conference focused on psychological and spiritual selves. Judyth Branson, psychotherapist and spiritual director, hosted a fireside chat to discuss the issues more intimately with the students. Branson, who is married to a priest, emphasized the importance of individual psychological health for those exercising “helping professions.”

“It was really interesting, very social and fun,” said Alicia Brooks DIV ’07, who attended the event. “She connected church work and psychological work in a very interesting way.”

Wednesday also boasted the Berkeley Divinity School Eucharist, a monthly tradition that brings together the Divinity School and the New Haven communities.

The conference will continue through the end of the week with a day dedicated to sexual selves and a day of conclusion. Highlights will include a dance party on Friday night and a discussion led by two Yale University employees, who will attempt to explain the challenges of being openly homosexual in the workplace.

Yale students join others from across this country and abroad in watching a teleconference on tsunami relief.
Daniel Yao
Yale students join others from across this country and abroad in watching a teleconference on tsunami relief.

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