Two weeks after the University ended its nine-year relationship with Indigo Blue — a nonprofit center for Buddhist life at Yale — students remain upset over its abrupt termination and the administration’s decision to cut ties with the program’s leader, former Buddhist Chaplain Bruce Blair ’81.
Though University Chaplain Sharon Kugler met with students on Sunday to discuss potential programs to replace Indigo Blue, nearly half of them walked out in the middle of the conversation, expressing dissatisfaction with the way in which Yale has handled the situation. Both Kugler and Blair sent emails to students previously involved in Indigo Blue last Tuesday stating their desire to focus on providing adequate resources for Buddhist students in the program’s absence rather than reasons for the its end. Blair told the News Sunday that he still will not discuss reasons behind the decision but that he hopes to work with the University to address the new programs and potentially re-establish a relationship in the future.
“[Not disclosing the reasons] provides an opportunity to resolve the issues, [and] the relationship be restored in some fashion,” Blair said.
Blair said he hopes to help address the current problems resulting from the program’s end — including the significant effect it has had on the Buddhist student community at Yale. The University abruptly cut ties with Indigo Blue and former Chaplain Bruce Blair on Sunday, Oct. 21, without disclosing any specifics surrounding the decision. He said he does not want the program’s closure to fall victim to “politics” or excessive speculation.
While he initially refrained from making a statement following the termination of Indigo Blue, Blair said he sent the email on Tuesday to address student confusion because he “felt like [his] silence was exacerbating things.”
At Sunday’s meeting, which was the first of three planned meetings between students and Kugler, students brought up concerns about the need for a new Buddhist shrine and their desire for a program with space for quiet contemplation — similar to Indigo Blue’s Stillness & Light, said attendee Geoffrey Liu MED ’15. The Buddhist Chapel, which was formerly housed in the Branford Memorial Room in Harkness Tower and renovated at the end of last semester, was closed and dismantled following Indigo Blue’s cancellation.
The meeting was capped at 20 students, six of whom were Chaplain’s Office peer liaisons, and five to seven students were turned away, as was Bruce Blair’s son Nate Blair. Roughly halfway into the meeting, eight students walked out citing dissatisfaction with the way in which administrators listened to student concerns, Liu said.
Liu said that in the discussion, Kugler stated that she refused to discuss the dismissal of Blair or reasons behind the termination of Indigo Blue, but explained that she did not initially inform students about Blair’s departure because she wanted to tell Blair himself first.
Kugler also raised the possibility of hiring a new Buddhist chaplain, said attendee Simon Song ’15, but she stated that the budget would only allow such a position to be part time, or 15 to 18 hours per week. Patrick Cage ’14, another attendee, said Kugler told them she would consider restoring Branford Chapel as a shrine but that she expected that hours would be restricted and that other groups would be granted rights to the space. He added that Kugler accommodated suggestions to establish a student-run version of Stillness & Light, but she said such a program could not run beyond midnight for security reasons.
Kugler deferred comment to University Spokesman Tom Conroy, who said he would not comment beyond saying “the Chaplain’s Office has ended its arrangement with [Blair] and his organization.”
According to Liu, Simon Song ’14, who was the first to leave the meeting, said during the meeting that he could not remain present and watch Buddhist students get increasingly upset at the tone of the meeting.
“The University has a different understanding of what is going on,” Song said. “We don’t feel the sincerity of the Chaplain’s Office to address student concerns.”
Despite the efforts made by administrators to facilitate a smooth transition after Bruce Blair’s departure, students said they are still upset at the abruptness and secrecy surrounding the decision.
Kerri Lu ’14, a student who attended many Indigo Blue events, said she has spoken with many other students involved in the program, but she has never heard of students having negative experiences with the former chaplain.
But four students interviewed said that they experienced negative interactions with Blair that caused them to stop attending Indigo Blue programs.
Shon Arieh-Lerer ’14, who attended several Indigo Blue activities his freshman year, said that after he accidentally set off an alarm in Harkness Tower one night, Bruce Blair yelled at him and used offensive language. Arieh-Lerer said that after approaching Blair several times following the incident, Blair eventually refused to speak to him again.
“He kind of turned me off of Buddhism, ironically,” he said. “I felt like what he was doing was trying to test my faith … like a cult leader.”
Julia Schlesinger ’15, a student formerly involved with Indigo Blue, said she believes Bruce Blair genuinely helped many students but that his “eccentric approach” may occasionally hurt sensitive students.
Friends of Indigo Blue, an organization started by students and alumni to support each other and request response from administrators, currently has 150 members on its panlist and 30 submissions of personal experiences with Indigo Blue.