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Q&A: Interim director for religious and spiritual life talks new role and RLC plans

Austin+Reid+previously+worked+with+Hillel+as+a+Springboard+fellow+at+the+college+and+is+back+to+lead+the+Office+of+Religious+and+Spiritual+life.+
Courtesy of Rachel Philipson
Austin Reid previously worked with Hillel as a Springboard fellow at the college and is back to lead the Office of Religious and Spiritual life.

In December 2023, Austin Reid was announced as the interim director for the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life. The position opened when Yasin Ahmed, former director for the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, resigned from the college in October 2023. 

Reid spent two years working with Hillel at Ithaca College from 2018 to 2020 as a Springboard Fellow, a program started by Hillel International that connects early-career professionals to colleges to make Jewish campus life more engaging and inclusive. 

Bonnie Prunty, vice president of Student Affairs and Campus Life, said in a Dec. 9 Intercom post that announced his hiring that Reid will provide direct support to students in the college community who have been impacted by the continued conflict in Israel and Gaza. Prunty also said Reid will support the launch of a new Religious and Spiritual Life-based Residential Learning Community (RLC). 

Assistant News Editor Ryan Johnson spoke with Reid about what brought him back to campus, plans to assist students impacted by the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza and what he is most excited about for Spring 2024. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Ryan Johnson: You previously worked with Hillel from 2018 to 2020; what brought you back to campus? 

Austin Reid: I have told many people since working at IC that my favorite job I’ve ever had was working with Hillel. There were students I connected with during that time who I still stay in touch with today and [I] found the work to be really meaningful. [I] found the variety of things students are working on at Ithaca College to be really amazing. One particular memorable program we worked on during my time with Hillel was the Swipe Out Hunger Initiative, which still continues at Ithaca College today. I’m really excited to make connections like that again, during the interim period that I’m going to be here.

RJ: How are you planning to provide support to students impacted by the Israel-Hamas war right now? 

AR:  I know that there are few issues going on today that are as important as the ongoing Israel-Palestinian conflict and there are two upcoming programs that center on this area. The first is Side by Side, which is going to be happening on Feb. 6 from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. … in Muller Chapel. Side by Side is a dual narrative of Israeli and Palestinian history that’s going to be done through the personal and family stories of two individuals, one Israeli and one Palestinian. Later in the semester, one program that’s already being formed is ‘Roots’ and that’s March 5 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Emerson Suites. Roots is a program that will highlight an Israeli and Palestinian grassroots initiative for understanding non violence. Guest speakers are going to be sharing their firsthand, personal and often interconnected stories that will also highlight the … grassroots work of this organization that’s operating in Israel and Palestine. So these are two programs, and I would certainly welcome conversations with any students, too, about other ways to help make sure our campus community knows about issues like this, but these are the two programs that I already am hearing about.

RJ: Explain the plans for the new Religious and Spiritual Life Residential Learning Community and how that came about. 

AR: An interfaith residential learning community existed at Ithaca College in 2015, and it continued for several years until it became inactive. The proposed religious and spiritual life-based residential learning community — [for] which a name has been put forward called ‘Seekers’ as a designation for this community — is a potential successor to the earlier community, and it’s still in the early stages of conception. The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, together with our partners in the Office of Residential Life, intend to host several informational sessions this semester to better understand the range of student interest in this learning community and the contributions this community could make to the broader campus community. … This is all really based on interest and feedback, so we hope this new RLC will launch in fall of 2025.

RJ: How will you work to ensure every student feels comfortable expressing their religion on the Ithaca College campus?

AR: A focus area that I will have is we have a few communities here that operate on campus without any part-time or full-time staff. So I want students in those communities to see me as their point person. If there’s a question about how you’re doing a particular program, [or] a question about [getting] funding for a particular effort we want to do here, I want folks to feel that my doors open, and I’m here to help with those things. We also have some fantastic work that’s being done by our different affiliate communities and student organizations that are existing, and I want to support the things that are already in motion for the year, particularly coming in at the moment that I’m coming in. Another thing that I’ve been thinking about is how is Muller Chapel sending an explicit invitation to all members of our campus committee that this is a space for them. Some conversations I’m already having is with folks at CAPS about how to bring more wellness activities into the chapel. … I think Muller Chapel [is] this unique space on campus that is very conducive for … more intimate gatherings and positions itself to be [a] reflective, contemplative space.

RJ: What are you most excited about in your new position? 

AR: I’m especially excited again to connect with the students one-on-one. I love the chances I’ve had in the past year to just get to know students and what’s going on in their lives. [I want to see] how this office [can] be part of the many resources on campus that help them be successful in their time here and help put them on a path where they can live what is meaningful to them as a part of their college experiences. Starting next week, I will have standing office hours [from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays], but my door is also open [at] other times.

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Ryan Johnson
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