by Grace Hatton, staff writer
Any seasoned Warren Wilson student knows how important the great outdoors are to our community. Hiking trails, riding mountain bikes, and swimming in the river are all a part of our culture here. Spirituality is also a major part of our culture, and now it seems the two are going to walk hand in hand.
This year will see a flurry of events hosted by the Spiritual Life/Social Justice Crew and Outdoor Programs. The first of these events is called the Tent and a Dog Initiative. As part of this project, Religious Studies Department Chair and College Chaplain Jeanne Sommer is inviting up to 10 students at a time to go camping with her and a dog. According to Sommer, the purpose of this experience is “to provide a safe place for about 10 people to know and be known. It’s an opportunity for students to get to know me, as the new chaplain, and figure out anything they’re currently thinking about with regard to life in general or life at Wilson, et cetera. I thought this would be a good way for me to meet students, especially first year students, but it’s open to others who many benefit from such an association and experience”.
The inspiration for the Tent and A Dog Initiative began back in 1995 when a Wilson student decided to leave the college to go and figure ‘it’ all out. “He was brilliant, interesting, and engaged. All of the qualities we hope for in a Warren Wilson student” says Sommer. “He told me he was going to leave and take his tent and a dog and just ‘figure it out.’ I asked him: ‘Is there any way you could just get a tent and dog and stay here in a supportive community to figure it out?’ This particular student needed to leave, but it made me wonder if there were some students who could benefit from a safe and supportive environment simply to think about their lives and connect with others who have similar desires for awareness. When I was appointed chaplain for the college and began thinking about initiatives that might serve our students, I was reminded of this comment and realized that now, in this new position, I have the opportunity to help students in this way.” Sommer herself has benefited from conducting her own Tent and a Dog Initiative.
“I love to camp, and I have a camp site within walking distance of the college on my own land where I have myself taken my dog and simply spent time ‘figuring it out’ … in a peaceful place, with the companionship of a good dog who never fails me, to do this good interior work.” Says Sommer, “Given what this space has meant to me, I thought that, perhaps, this could be of help to students. The difference being that we would have this experience in community, with 5-10 other students.”
Weather permitting, the Tent and a Dog Initiative will take place on Friday nights, and the next one is planned for October 2nd. The experience is open to all students, but Sommer has a particular goal for first year students wishing to participate. “I have a special initiative that has its goal that I know every first year student by name, hopefully by the end of this semester, but certainly by the end of the school year. We will likely not all camp together, but my plan is to know who they are and at least to let them know that there is one person at the college who knows them, cares about their success, but has no agenda for them other than to help them grow more fully into themselves, in whatever way they deem most appropriate for themselves.”
Along with the Tent and a Dog Initiative, the Spiritual Life/Social Justice Crew in conjunction with Outdoor Programs hopes to conduct a backpacking trip to Hot Springs in Madison County. This program is open to all students.
If students would like to be a part of this new interaction between the outdoors and spirituality, they can sign up for the Tent and a Dog Initiative on the Spiritual Life/Social Justice Crew door or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
It is clear these new initiatives are all a part of Sommer’s refreshing and open approach to spirituality on campus. “My job, as chaplain, is not to direct people toward ‘religions’ but to help our students become more fully human, more fully themselves, and I know that this can and should take them in a variety of directions in their lives. It’s an exciting time of introspection and change and I look forward to accompanying students on their journeys.”