Individual Care

Carleton College Chaplain Fure-Slocum discusses seeing her role as primarily a facilitator of service and inter-religious dialogue.

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Well, I really see the role of the chaplain here [at Carleton] is to, I always say this, there's three parts to it. The first is to help people of all religious backgrounds to practice in whatever way is appropriate to them. So we have, I have a different way of doing services here so, well actually let me talk through the three and I'll come back to that. So it's to help people of a particular faith to practice in appropriate ways. The second is to help people to learn about other traditions, both for the sake of their own spriritual search but also for the sake of cross-cultural communcation and understanding. And the third is really to explore meaning in their lives whether they have a religious background or not. So, you know, 'Why and how are we here?' and 'What am I to do with my life?' kinds of big questions. So, everything we do is surrounding one of those three things if not all three at once. That said, I'd say my major emphasis has been on interfaith dialogue, so we have a very strong interfaith dialogue group on campus and then also on social justice work. So we have a social justice internship program for people to do internships during the summer within the U.S. that I helped launch. Then we have an interfaith social action group that's much like the Chicago Interfaith Youth Core work except we started it separately, that works on immigration issues primarily. So I'd say my, out of, out of those three huge topic areas I'd say my major emphasis has been on interfaith dialogue and social justice, big base social justice.

In The Carletonian, the student newspaper of Carleton College in Northfield, the end of each editorial about the passing of a student or recent alumnus contains the phrase, "For counseling, contact the Chaplain's Office or the Wellness Center."1 In The Mac Weekly, the student newspaper of Macalester College in St. Paul, an editorial noted that "when financial support for the Protestant chaplain ran out, students protested that the school was taking away their support system," emphasizing that "only a chaplain is guaranteed to be available for all students, specialize in pastoral counseling, and encourage reflection on values and doubt."2

Reverend Carolyn Fure-Slocum, who became the College Chaplain at Carleton in 1997, is familiar with this common perception. She said that she is often seen as a mental health and counseling resource and discussed the unique role that chaplains play on campus.

Along with the SHAC [Student Health and Counseling], the chaplains are confidential resources in terms of, we don't have to report upwards which the rest of the college (the faculty and staff) is mandated to do. So it's a confidential place both for issues of sexual misconduct, let people figure out what they're going to do there, but all other fronts.
—Rev. Carolyn Fure-Slocum

However, the portion of her time dedicated to counseling students and the nature of the help she provided changed throughout her career.

I do a fair amount of counseling but I think that [it has become] less over the years as our wellness center has become better and better and I think students are more comfortable going to counselors than going to their clergy. [The number of students I see] is still significant but I would say counseling often comes through the back door. I'll have a student come to me about a paper they're writing for a class, or something like that, and then we end up talking about their issues with their boyfriend or their parents or whatever it might be. So I'd say there's a lot of back door counseling as well, so I've not been able to put a percentage of my time on things because I might be cleaning up from a service and somebody's talking to [me] about something important. But yes, I wouldn't say [counseling is] a major portion of my job but [it's] certainly a portion.
—Rev. Carolyn Fure-Slocum

However, as chaplains are not trained mental health professionals, Rev. Fure-Slocum feels that when issues of mental health arise, the role of counselor is best reserved for mental health practitioners. Instead, much of her work is more pertinent to spiritual direction.

If [the discomfort] is clearly a mental health issue I try to get people over to the wellness center as quickly as possible because I don't consider myself a trained professional in the way a psychologist is. In the majority of cases it's really much more about spiritual direction, so how these issues intersect with their faith lives or their values more broadly.
—Rev. Carolyn Fure-Slocum

Rev. Dr. Lucy Forster-Smith, former chaplain at Macalester, echoed this sentiment. However, she noted that her lack of training did not mean that she couldn't serve as a counselor. In many instances she felt that her work as a chaplain provided her with a unique lens with which to encourage students' healing.

Not only do I try to support students to new insight or heal them. There are limits. I'm not a therapist and not a psychiatrist. But what I'm not afraid to do is to step into fear or the scary places of life and deeply trusting that at the core that you can interrogate or investigate things that are scary. It's like lancing a boil . . . going into it and saying you are terrified.
—Rev. Dr. Lucy Forster-Smith

However, many times, issues of 'faith,' whatever that may mean for a student, have profound implications for a student’s health. Rev. Fure-Slocum discussed how struggling with faith can affect mental health in a very profound way.

I think faith can be a grounding principle in the person's life that can help to get one through the stresses of academia especially at places like Macalester and Carleton. When that's shaken in some way it can then throw off everything else. I think until one figures out a guiding principle of life, or basically what you think the meaning of life is, it's really hard to make sense of all the things you're learning. Everyone needs a framework to hang all of the ideas one is learning in a liberal arts college and I think for some people that framework is their faith or it's more explicit like feminist theology or Marxist philosophy. It's the framework around which all else is shaped. So in many ways I think faith affects many people a great deal . . . and therefore [faith] can affect mental health in a pretty profound way. I know there are a lot of studies about how faith affects physical health that's maybe a bit further than I go here, but I think that certainly has an element to it too. So we [the chaplains] do things with the wellness center, they have peer leaders as we do too in the chapel and so we've done [events together]. But it's about how do we understand those things [faith and health], [so our joint programs have] even been things like mindful eating, how do you take a mindfulness approach to much of your life? So we're defining 'faith' really broadly here.
—Rev. Carolyn Fure-Slocum

Although they are not psychologists, chaplains fill a valuable role in student support systems. At Macalester College, the loss of chaplains due to a lack of financial support sparked resistance from students as they feared losing a valued source of reflection and guidance. An article in The Mac Weekly noted that students could not “be the sole support for [their] peers when they are going through a mental health crisis, coming out, or dealing with trauma. That’s a chaplain’s job.”3

  1. Beth Budnick, "Students return from break to mourn John Guckin '14," The Carletonian, April 8, 2011,

  2. Rasmussen, "Service for Our Souls: Why Macalester needs a chaplain," The Mac Weekly, October 31, 2013,

  3. Rasmussen, "Service for Our Souls: Why Macalester needs a chaplain," The Mac Weekly, October 31, 2013,