Indigo Blue continues off-campus

Former Buddhist Chaplain Bruce Blair ’81 has continued programs for students off-campus.
Former Buddhist Chaplain Bruce Blair ’81 has continued programs for students off-campus. Photo by Jennifer Cheung.

Both the University and Indigo Blue have separately continued to provide programming for Yale’s Buddhist community following administrators’ abrupt decision last month to cut ties with the center for Buddhist life and former Buddhist Chaplain Bruce Blair ’81.

The Chaplain’s Office has begun to hold a series of meetings seeking student input on potential programs to replace Indigo Blue, which was canceled without any prior warning or explanation on Oct. 21. University Chaplain Sharon Kugler hosted a second meeting between administrators and students Monday evening, but students say they feel the conversations have “not been productive” due to a communication gap between administrators and members of the Buddhist community.

The University has still not disclosed reasons for the program’s cancellation, which was met with significant student criticism.  Blair continues to offer Indigo Blue programs at his house near campus where he has relocated the Buddhist shrine formerly housed in the Branford Memorial Room.

“Formulating and implementing a new Buddhist program at Yale requires hearing the ideas and concerns of those it would serve,” Kugler said in a Tuesday email to the News.

Rita Pin Ahrens ’99, a member of Indigo Blue’s Board of Directors, said Indigo Blue is actively trying to restore its relationship with the University, but she added that a “condition” of re-establishing the relationship dictates that she cannot specify the reason for Blair’s departure. Indigo Blue board members have not yet made any formal contact with Yale administrators, she said.

University Spokesman Tom Conroy said the University “has no plans to resume an arrangement with Indigo Blue,” but Blair told the News Wednesday night that “people are talking to each other” and his attorney “just talked to the University’s attorney [Monday] night.”

Two events, a tea and a congee brunch, were held at Blair’s house last weekend and there are plans for expanded programs, Blair said in an email to members of the Indigo Blue community. The Chaplain’s office has told students that they are welcome to visit and maintain communication with Blair, said Geoffrey Liu MED ’15, a member of the Indigo Blue community.

“I feel really comfortable at his house because even [though] it’s not Harkness or Battel, at least the setting is familiar and I really like being around those [same] people,” meeting attendee Kuang He ’14 said.

Still, Kugler has begun an effort to offer alternative Buddhist programs to serve Yale students. She told the News that she has made preparations to reopen the Buddhist shrine in the Branford Memorial Room, adding that she hopes it will be constructed after Thanksgiving break. The Chaplain’s Office has asked Tsondru Sangpo, a Tibetan teacher and an employee of the Center for Language Study, to bless and open the space, she said.

Kugler added that she is currently collaborating with Buddhists outside Yale to write a job description for a new Buddhist Chaplain and that student input will be considered in the hiring process.

At Monday’s meeting, Kugler, Dean of Student Affairs Marichal Gentry, Program Coordinator for the Chaplain’s Office Nathaniel DeLuca GRD ’06 and a group of roughly 20 students that Kugler calls the “student steering committee” discussed progress in implementing new Buddhist programs. Patrick Cage ’14 said the group also proposed ideas to replace Stillness & Light, an Indigo Blue program where students could gather nightly from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. for conversation and contemplation, but he said Kugler has not yet made concrete plans to reopen such a late-night space. At the last meeting, several students began to cry and half walked out halfway through because they felt the University was not adequately listening to their concerns.

Cage added that he thinks the Chaplain’s Office does not fully understand the importance of Stillness & Light’s religious aspects. He said Blair ensured that the space remained “sacred,” which made it particularly comfortable.

“The Chaplain’s office seemed to be saying they already have programming during those hours on Friday and Saturday nights, referring to Global Grounds,” he said. “I think they perhaps misunderstood some of the reasons Stillness & Light was important.”

Hung Pham ’15, who was present at the meeting, said another attendee brought up testimony submitted to Friends of Indigo Blue — a support group for the Buddhist community during the transition period — from a rape victim who said Stillness & Light provided emotional support in a way that Yale Health and Walden Peer Counseling did not.

A former co-worker of Blair interviewed said that Blair has had previous problems with administrative capabilities.

Roughly seven years ago, Blair was asked to step down from his previous position of roughly 10 years as an unpaid abbot for the New Haven Zen Center because of an inability to fulfill his administrative duties, said Paul Bloom, who took over the abbot post after Blair’s exit. Bloom said Blair created difficulties with administrators of NHZC for several years by failing to respond to emails and phonecalls in a timely manner, to fulfill his event-organizing responsibilities and to manage finances responsibly.

“[There was] no horrible impropriety of any sort,” Bloom said. “His administrative functioning was problematic and challenged.”

Blair does not currently have a relationship with the NHZC, said Keith Angilly, president of the Board of Trustees for NHZC. Blair said Bloom’s claims were false, and that he left the position after reaching an agreement to work with Indigo Blue exclusively instead of NHZC.

Indigo Blue was founded by Ahrens, Blair and Loretta Staples ’79 in 2005.

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