In the aftermath of the banishment of the Buddhist group Indigo Blue from campus, University Chaplain Sharon Kugler’s commitment to the Yale community has been tested — and found wanting.
First, a chaplain should communicate.
Even if the reasoning behind this debacle had to be kept secret, the fact that it was happening at all should have been announced promptly, to the entire Yale community. No one at Yale should arrive at his or her regular place of worship one morning only to find it bolted shut; no one, seeking calm contemplation late at night, should arrive at a previously safe space only to find it inexplicably shuttered. No delegation of concerned students should be turned away from a discussion about the future of an organization they have come to love just because the Chaplain’s Office decided arbitrarily to cap the meeting attendance at 20.
Second, a chaplain should respect those she serves.
“This change … was carefully thought out,” wrote Kugler in her first e-mail to the Yale community regarding her office’s decision to sever relations with Indigo Blue — a week after the group’s activities were first halted. Yet no transition plan was in place to fill the sudden voids left in the wake of Indigo Blue’s departure. Most important for the non-Buddhists at Yale, myself among them, is the lack of a nighttime space for quiet contemplation — a space formerly provided by Bruce Blair at Battell Chapel from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m. without fail throughout the academic year, known officially as Stillness and Light.
Kugler is “considering” reinstating Battell as a meditation space “similar” to Stillness and Light. But there are two problems with that. First, every day that she spends pondering is a day without Stillness and Light, an institution that has been relied upon by many, myself included, as a welcoming refuge during times of uncertainty and sadness. Second, Kugler envisions this new, “similar” meditation ending at midnight, a full two hours before its predecessor. This will be small comfort to those who, like myself and many others, are most in need late at night — when friends have gone to bed, weariness sets in and emotions run high.
When asked her reason for the limited hours of the yet-to-materialize meditation in a to-be-determined location, Kugler told the News that there were “security reasons” for the decision. This seems absurd: What are her security concerns and why were they not an issue before? It is also contradictory: When I pressed her on the same question during our meeting last week, she told me frankly that she felt that Yale students who attended until 2 a.m. just weren’t getting enough sleep. The latter is a judgment that Kugler has no right to make, and one that shows a misunderstanding of the relationship that Stillness and Light has always had with the student body.
Four years ago, I attended Stillness and Light because I felt alone. I couldn’t sleep and the door was open; Stillness and Light never imposed itself on me, or any other student. It simply provided a place in which students could “come and go without hindrance,” a driving ethos behind Indigo Blue.
The events of the past three weeks have brought out in the Chaplain’s Office a fundamental disrespect for the traditions, needs and sound judgment of campus Buddhists and the Yale community as a whole. The proverbial rug has been swept out from under us.
I call on Chaplain Kugler to begin — today, immediately — to take steps to help us up, on our own terms. She should return to us as many pieces as possible of what we once had; this includes immediately reopening the doors of Battell Chapel for late-night meditation. I call on the wider Yale administration, up to and including Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry and University President Richard Levin, to ensure that the chaplain’s actions are both swift and effective in addressing student concerns.
As meditation is not an inherently religious activity, if the chaplain continues to delay, the University should provide a space on central campus for the continuation of this meaningful Yale tradition.
Ethan Rodriguez-Torrent is a senior in Davenport College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .