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

Robert Amelio addresses diversity, equity, and outreach in his new role as interim director at the Emerson Center for Spiritual Life

Yufei Meng
Emerson College appoints Robert Amelio as a part-time interim director of Spiritual Life.

Last week, Robert Amelio was announced as the part-time interim director of spiritual life. A 1981 alumnus, former professor, and director of diversity and inclusive excellence at Emerson, Amelio was prompted out of semi-retirement by his deep connections to the school and took on this role following the departure of the former Emerson Director of Spiritual Life and Campus Chaplain Julie Avis Rogers earlier this month.

“The opportunity to work at Emerson again is very appealing to me,” Amelio said in an interview with the Beacon. “I had a wonderful experience at Emerson all my years there.” 

Amelio expressed his excitement about returning to work at Emerson, particularly in a low-commitment, part-time capacity like this. 

“This is a nice time-limited job, and that’s kind of perfect for what I’m doing with the rest of my life as a consultant right now,” Amelio said. 

Amelio still consults diversity, equity, and inclusion for other colleges and healthcare organizations. 

While Amelio’s role will primarily focus on managing the chaplains and programs offered by the Emerson Center For Spiritual Life and not pastoral counseling, he still has a religious background. Amelio has served as a lay leader in the First Church in Jamaica Plain Unitarian Universalist for 35 years, including work in ministerial selection and leading religious education programs.

“Even though I’m not a pastoral counselor, I’ve been involved with a religious and spiritual organization for a long, long time,” Amelio said, “And that I think I can bring to my job at Emerson as well.”

Amelio said his return to Emerson will be temporary, lasting only a couple of months, while the administration searches for a full-time replacement—a position he has no interest in taking on himself, as he is still mostly retired. With plans to be on campus for about 15 hours each week, his role won’t be super hands-on, yet Amelio still hopes to make a difference in any way he can during his time here.

“I’m not sure I can say what’s going to be new during the time I’m [here], but hopefully, we’ll be looking at what else we can be doing,” Amelio said.

Amelio mentioned that one of the initial tasks upon assuming the role of interim director was reviewing the past six months of emails to the Center for Spiritual Life to understand the concerns and questions raised by students. Amelio said in those emails he found many students who were interested in getting spiritually active or continuing their spiritual journey but needed direction and guidance.

Under the previous Director of Spiritual Life, Julie Avis Rogers, the Center for Spiritual Life faced criticism for lacking campus presence and publicity of the Center and what it offers. 

“I’m only going to be there for a couple of months, so I can’t create wonderful big change,” Amelio said about these concerns. However, he sees marketing and outreach as something for the Center to improve.

“I think it’s definitely on us [to be] working with students and other people who use the services…to find out…we need to be doing better so we’re more known to everyone at Emerson,” Amelio said. “How do we market spiritual life in a way that we haven’t done before…so that people want to come visit us?… I don’t know yet.”

Amelio said part of this process begins with helping students understand that the Center is meant to be a resource for all students to use like any other that accepts everyone.

“[We need] to make sure people understand that we are a nonjudgmental place, [and] it doesn’t matter if you believe a certain thing or not, or even if you have any spiritual belief. If you’re interested in talking about issues of humanity, social justice, and faith, we’re a place for you,” Amelio said.

Many organized religions in the United States do not affirm LGBTQIA+ identities. Many also oppose abortion and ​​problems persist in gender equity in leadership positions, creating a perception of organized religion as conservative, judgemental places where not everyone is welcome.

As someone who grew up gay in the Catholic Church, Amelio spent many years trying to find a place where he could practice religion and spirituality without reproach. 

“I realized I couldn’t fit into the Catholic Church belief system anymore, and as I became a more aware young adult around issues of women in the church, abortion in the church, LGBTQ life in the church, I couldn’t [stay],” he said. 

Amelio said he found acceptance in the Unitarian Church. Unitarianism is generally considered a relatively progressive religious movement that encompasses a wide range of beliefs and no doctrinal creed, and which fit his own ideas about religion and spirituality.

“I tend to think of myself more as a spiritual person [rather] than a religious person, and I do that because I don’t want to have to adhere to a certain doctrine or set of beliefs that have [been] forced on me,” Amelio said.

Amelio hopes to cultivate a similar sense of freedom and inclusion for Emerson students within the college’s religious and spiritual programs, mirroring the experience he found in his own religious life.

“[My spirituality is] more about how I am in the world toward other people, how I create compassion and kindness toward other people and welcoming toward other people,” Amelio said. “My hope is the Center is a place that is seen as doing that for students, faculty, and staff.”

Misconceptions that the Center for Spiritual Life mostly centers around organized religious practice is another one that Amelio hopes to combat. Amelio sees spirituality as a much broader practice that can exist inside or outside an organized religious context and benefit all people regardless of their beliefs.

“If you believe in God, you’re welcome. If you don’t believe in God, you’re welcome. If you believe in something else, you’re welcome,” Amelio said. “We’re a place where people want to have conversations and support who you are and support your journey.”

Coming from a diversity, equity, and inclusion background, much of Amelio’s thinking on the Center is focused on ensuring equal access and equal treatment of all people who choose to use it, which he encourages all who are interested in doing.

“I think [spirituality] can center one’s life when you’re going through stress, or difficulties, or [when you] just need a place to come and think about who you are without being judged,” Amelio said.

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About the Contributor
Bryan Hecht
Bryan Hecht, News Co-Editor
Bryan Hecht (he/him) is a freshman journalism major from Havertown, Pennsylvania. He currently serves as an assistant editor of The Berkeley Beacon News section. Bryan also contributes to WEBN Political Pulse and hopes one day to work in broadcast news media. As a member of the Emerson Cross Country team, Bryan can likely be found on a run around the Boston area when he's not writing for the Beacon.

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