‘Caring with words’: Truitt Center creates online spaces to share challenges and silver linings

Elon’s Truitt Center is still caring for the Elon community, trying new methods and giving students ownership of projects and events.

“Celebrating Holidays while Social Distancing” with LEAF (Lutherans, Episcopalians and Friends) Campus Minister Julie Tonnesen (from left), Imam Shane Atkinson and Rabbi Sandra Lawson.

Historically in times of crisis, faith communities are often where people go for support. Now that physically gathering together isn’t a possibility, the offerings are virtual, yet still just as vital. While the Elon community is apart, Elon’s Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life is working to create many types of online spaces where students can simply be themselves, share challenges and connect.

Anna Ditesheim ’22 and Luis Garay, director of the Gender and LGBTQIA Center, participate in an Instagram Livestream conversation for “Spirit and Pride.”

“Our students are hungry for connection,” said Joel Harter, associate university chaplain and the director of the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life. “The challenge is to be creative within virtual spaces as we meet the need for connection and grounding in a time of great uncertainty. It’s still not the same, but I think it’s helping.”

The Truitt Center is trying new approaches, hosting events ranging from video cooking meet-ups to a virtual Passover Seder to online book clubs and group discussions. Students have stepped up to manage a lot of the virtual events, bringing an understanding of how their peers may prefer to experience an event and how to reimagine content for online platforms. For example, intern Anna Ditesheim ’22 facilitated a well-attended Instagram Livestream conversation for Spirit and Pride, a group working to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for LGBTQIA people of faith. Harder said that loves to see how excited the students become when their ideas succeed and people respond well.

Students aren’t the only ones learning to accommodate change — University Chaplain Jan Fuller acknowledges how different her work is now. She said that caring for students with words just isn’t the same as being in their presence. But among the uncertainty and changes, Fuller sees opportunity. She referenced a story likening travel to bees gathering pollen, which they turn to honey once they’re back home. While we’re away, experiences are accumulated, then we can make something sweet of them when we return.

Chaplain Jan Fuller poses during an online session of College Coffee.

“We may be unaware of our accumulating pollen, but there may be an opportunity in the future to use it, and we don’t want to miss that,” Fuller said.

“The question on our minds is ‘What is this all going to mean?’ and we in the Truitt Center are uniquely positioned to ask and help articulate the meaning. The way this is challenging our norms and asking us to dig deeper is all spiritual. When things are going well, we may not ask the hard questions. My hope is that we use this experience to make us better people and then a better community, honoring and reflecting on what we value and what needs to change.”

For updates about online events and gatherings check these sites: the Truitt Center blog and the Truitt Center webpage and social media sites, including: Catholic LifeElon Hillel and Muslim Life at Elon.

The Truitt Center will continue to host these ongoing events through the end of the semester: