Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Director of Spiritual and Religious Life and Campus Chaplain Julie Avis Rogers leaves Emerson

Amin S. Lotfi
Director of Spiritual and Religious Life and Campus Chaplain Julie Avis Rogers is leaving Emerson on Nov. 16. (Amin S. Lotfi/Beacon Staff)

The thin, brick steeple of the Church of the Covenant is visible from the Center for Spiritual Life meditation room. For Director of Spiritual and Religious Life and Campus Chaplain Julie Avis Rogers, this is a reminder of her career, as she did not expect to leave her role at the church five years ago to start working at Emerson, less than a mile away. 

After collaborating with the Center for Spiritual Life since 2019, Avis Rogers is leaving Emerson on Nov. 16 to take an “intentional rest.” 

“I noticed this sense of ‘This was a beautiful chapter, and I think, for some reason, this chapter is closing right now,’” Avis Rogers said. “There’s something inside me that says, ‘You need to rest right now and figure out: where’s the next place?’” 

Prior to working on campus, Avis Rogers attended Denison University as a theater major. After graduating, she studied in Cuernavaca, Mexico, through the Center for Global Education, a study abroad program housed at Augsburg College. During the program, she took a required Liberation Theologies course that explored the relationship between social movements and faith communities, which kindled her interest in spirituality. She went on to accept a position to work at the Cuernavaca site from 2007 to 2009 to “dive more into theology and spiritual leadership.”

“I got to travel with these groups of students and see things through their eyes for the first time,” Avis Rogers said. “It was a constant immersion into a very different culture and this constant feeling of adventure.” 

Avis Rogers’ interest in pursuing a path of spirituality stemmed from the mentors and professors she met through the study abroad program. 

“I thank these professors in Mexico that put those pieces together for me because I don’t think I would have on my own,” Avis Rogers said. 

After receiving a Masters of Divinity from Harvard in 2012, Avis Rogers worked simultaneously as associate pastor of the Church of the Covenant for seven years and for the Memorial Church at Harvard for two years. 

Through her role at Church of the Covenant, Avis Rogers interacted with Emerson students due to the close proximity between the church and the college. She also learned about the school through her predecessor, Harrison Blum, the first full-time director of spiritual and religious life on campus, whom she met through Divinity School.

“It felt like all these things converged to lead me here,” Avis Rogers said. 

Upon arriving at Emerson, Avis Rogers prioritized speaking with students and faculty about what was needed to shape the Center for Spiritual Life. Part of her role as director of spiritual and religious life is to decide what programs the department should focus on. She heard from students she spoke with that they felt uncomfortable discussing spirituality despite having an interest in it. 

“When I arrived here, I immediately realized this would use an entrepreneurship feeling in a way. I would be able to build something new that hasn’t existed before,” Avis Rogers said. “One of my big goals was, can I create programs but also make a shift in the culture at Emerson that allows people to talk more about spirituality?”

Avis Rogers introduced the “What Matters to Me and Why” program, where, each week, a speaker talks about their spiritual journey and allows students, faculty, and staff members to vocalize their reactions and affirmations. She also created Weekly Wisdom, which has met almost every Wednesday for the past five years. Through the program, Avis Rogers or another student or staff member demonstrates guided meditations and grounding practices. 

“I wanted to create some kind of program that allowed people to share their spiritual journeys, but not put a label on it,” Avis Rogers said. “If you do feel like a label [is] useful to you, that’s excellent and important, and if you don’t have a name for your spirituality, there’s also room for you to talk about that.”

To further the inclusion of faiths on campus, Avis Rogers created a multi-faith spreadsheet in the fall of 2021 when multiple Jewish holidays lined up with mandatory college events at the beginning of the semester. The spreadsheet compiled holidays from various world religions and specified which ones are work-restrictive and prevent students from attending a class or event. This semester, an official Google Calendar was created in partnership with the Social Justice Collaborative.

“Three or four years ago, I became aware of how Emerson as a campus didn’t know about non-Christian holidays,” Avis Rogers said. “Important events are being scheduled on top of these major holidays, and that created a feeling of being unseen and being alienated and being misunderstood by specifically non-Christian students and faculty too.”

When planning what resources to provide, Avis Rogers pulls from the Liberation Theology course she took to understand the connection between activism and spirituality. 

“Part of religious leadership is to act on behalf of those that have been oppressed or whose voices have been silenced,” Avis Rogers said. “Emerson has been a place for me to think whose voices we are not hearing, what perspectives are not being welcomed at the table, whose stories are not being told, and see if I can create resources, communities, [and] spaces that widen the welcome of who we are listening to.”

Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Chris Daly has worked with Avis Rogers since her arrival on campus and has been her supervisor for the past four years. Daly, Avis Rogers, and Director of Intercultural Student Affairs Tamia Jordan collaborated to consider how spirituality and social justice intersect. 

“We’ve worked together on trying to think about how to [consider] spiritual identity when people talk about diversity, equity, and inclusion,” Daly said. “Frequently, they talk about issues of race, gender identity, and sexual orientation, but spiritual and religious identity is also part of that.” 

Avis Rogers also serves as Campus Chaplain, providing support and leadership during times of grief and crisis by holding vigils or memorial services if there is a loss in the community.

“I hope so much that, as a result of some of the spaces I’ve created and programs I’ve gotten to lead, people have felt genuinely cared for,” Avis Rogers said. “If I was able to create communities where people felt like they truly belonged and were cared for, then that’s the thing I’m the most proud of. I hope my impact is felt.” 

When Blum, Avis Rogers’ predecessor, was chaplain, he received a grant to hire the first Muslim Chaplain on campus. The grant, however, only allowed the chaplain to be on campus for one year and work fewer hours than the two other part-time chaplains. Avis Rogers sought to find another Muslim Chaplain to support the Muslim community on campus. 

“It was much smaller than any other chaplain role, so from the beginning, one of my priorities was if we’re going to be able to hire a chaplain, we need to do that in an equitable way,” Avis Rogers said. “Creating a Muslim Chaplain position that wasn’t funded by a grant that wasn’t so small, finding the money to do that, convincing the school that that was an important thing to do, and then gathering a search committee was a significant undertaking that had a beautiful impact.”

Avis Rogers defined her time at Emerson as the “greatest honor of [her] life.” She does not know what her next step is, but she is leaving with “excitement and gratitude.”  

“As I depart, that’s something I hope people know. [This position is] such a gift in my life story,” Avis Rogers said. “At the same time, I am excited for someone new to now be stepping in and see them take the Center for Spiritual Life into its next stage. It’s grown into a beautiful thing.”

Leave a Comment
About the Contributor
Bridget Frawley
Bridget Frawley, Staff Writer
Bridget Frawley (she/her) is a freshman journalism major from Jupiter, Florida. When she is not writing for the news section, she is a morning anchor for Mornings with George Knight of WERS 88.9 FM. She also loves reading, going on long walks, and thrifting.

Comments (0)

The Berkeley Beacon intends for this area to be used to foster healthy, thought-provoking discussion. We welcome strong opinions and criticism that are respectful and constructive. Comments are only posted once approved by a moderator and you have verified your email. All users are expected to adhere to our comment section policy. READ THE FULL POLICY HERE: https://berkeleybeacon.com/comments/
All Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *