USC Year-End Update 2019
In January 2019, I took over the position of Director of Muslim Life (DML) at the University of Southern California (USC) that was previously held by Shaykh Jamal Diwan (may God grant him success). The DML interacted with the Muslim Student Union (MSU) that consists of many local and international students. The following paragraphs highlight events, activities and miscellaneous issues of this past semester in my role as DML.
Between the months of January and May, there was a gathering of the directors of religious life that was held every first Monday. It was an opportunity to network and listen to featured persons discuss their religious and community activities within and outside of the USC campus. In one of the meetings, I was introduced as the new Director of Muslim Life and had the opportunity to present my educational background. My objective was to instill confidence within my colleagues that the DML was competent religiously and educationally in addressing the needs of the Muslim student body, faculty, and staff.
My office hours were every Monday from 12:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. I normally arrived home around 8:30 p.m. Most of my chaplaincy activities would occur after 4:00 p.m., as many students’ class schedules were mostly in the mornings and/or early afternoons.
Throughout my time as DML, my counseling activities consisted of the following:
- Coffee/Tea Visits: Some students randomly visited my office for the purpose of getting to know me. Some visited to ask me religious questions such as secularism and its by-products like liberalism or the validity of the Prophetic traditions.
- Counseling Sessions: The average number of students who would visit for counseling sessions was two students. The sessions focused on students who were experiencing various levels of emotional challenges. Some needed words of encouragement or advice. Concerning the latter (i.e., seeking advice), I chose to be more of a coach and not a distributor as I believe it is more productive for individuals to work through their issues with the knowledge that someone is metaphorically walking with them and not directing them.
Study circles were Monday evenings at 7:00 p.m. An average number of 20 students would attend. Many would look forward to study sessions and I think this was very refreshing for me to see.
I began my first study circle with a detailed introduction of myself. I discussed my journey to Islam and my educational background in Islamic studies as well as lessons one may be able to learn from my experiences.
Throughout the first month as DML and after my inaugural session, I decided to present miscellaneous Prophetic sayings from the book, “Muhammad: The Teacher” and some general lessons one may be to learn from each selected Prophetic saying.
At the request of some students, I developed a set of sessions focusing on the Friday Service and Congregation and its significance to all Muslims. We discussed its virtues and then I decided to branch out and discuss the various Quranic chapters and passages that are affiliated with the Jumu’ah1. These sessions were not detailed exegesis classes, but an opportunity for students to develop a general idea of the themes of each chapter in the Qur’an and their relationship with Jumu’ah. Due to time restrictions and a dwindling attendance because of exams, we only covered Chapter 18 of the Quran titled “The Cave.”
There were three significant functions that I would like to highlight. The first was a vigil for the slain Muslims in New Zealand. I had an opportunity to address the general student body, faculty, and other USC community members totaling around 100 people.
The second function was a dedicated open session for all members of the USC community to attend the MSU’s “Muslim Week.” Since it began on a Monday, my study session was going to be the highlight. Thus, I devoted that session discussing the pillars of Islam and talking in-depth about Prophet Muhammad (may God bless him and grant him protection). Several non-Muslim students attended and some Muslim students as well who ordinarily do not attend. The designated Muslim room (used for praying, studying, sessions, and general relaxation) had about 35 people in audience. I was asked to attend other activities but my schedule consisted of other obligations preventing me from attending.
The third function was the MSU’s end of semester (fast-breaking) Iftar banquet. The banquet consisted of about 100 students and some of their family members. I had the pleasure of meeting some of the students’ parents and some of them expressed their gratitude towards me for the work I had done including “dispelling some misconceptions of Islam” that some of the students had.
The experience as DML was challenging at times yet rewarding. I found the Office of Religious Life (ORL) to be fairly supportive. To their credit, they took certain issues very seriously. One time while seeking to enter the designated parking garage that I was assigned, I had a negative experience with the gate attendant. He was extremely rude to me and I suspected that he may have done so due to my race. I reported this issue and it was dealt with by the ORL. This was very refreshing to see.
I intend to expand my knowledge of counseling. Students seemed to be receptive of the fact that this particular DML is considered a scholar by his peers at the Office of Religious Life. However, I believe the counseling aspect of chaplaincy could use some refining.
– Sh. Jibreel Speight