Editor in Chief
In her ninth year at the University of La Verne, newly appointed University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner has had many experiences while on campus, and feels ready to bring her plans for the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life into action. Her position goes into effect today and she is excited to begin building the department from the ground up.
In her “office with a view,” she discussed why interfaith ministry is important, how taking one religion class changed her career vision and how incorporating differing traditions can bring us closer together.
Tell me about your academic history and how you came to where you are today.
I received my bachelor’s of science at ULV in psychology and a minor in religion. From there I went and got my master’s of divinity at Bethany Theological Seminary. Then I worked for a few years and got my doctorate in religion at Claremont Graduate University.
While I was finishing my doctorate, there was a position that opened up at La Verne to direct the general education program for undergraduate students. I really had taken on that position to get experience within an academic institution and I ended up staying.
I have had a variety of titles; I started as the Director of general education and then moved to Assistant Vice Provost for undergraduate programs, and then Assistant Dean for undergraduate programs.
Along the way I also worked with the religion department as an Assistant Professor of religion, and now I am moving on to being Chaplain.
Did you originally plan on going to school to end up in religion?
When I was an undergraduate, I planned on being a counselor, but midway through my time here, I took a religion course and it became an interest for me.
Even though I had my psychology degree, I still had my minor in religion and they did not feel unrelated to me.
What have you done in ministry?
After I graduated with my master’s degree, I went to McPherson College and served as the campus minister for three years. My assumption was that I would continue doing ministry, but while I was there I had the opportunity to teach a few classes. I realized then that there was more I wanted to do academically.
Once I got into my profession, I did campus ministry and now I am going back into chaplaincy.
Was there anything else besides your undergraduate religion classes that influenced you to go into religion?
I grew up in the La Verne Church of the Brethren and I had a great experience being surrounded by individuals that were doing really great things in the world, one person at a time.
They were working in areas of social justice, poverty, hunger, race relations and any number of issues surrounding justice.
I saw that these people had a passion for ministry and also had a passion for bringing justice to the communities.
Those were my models and throughout my youth, I was very active in participating in some of those events. It eventually became a part of the air I breathed.
I continued to do these things because I liked doing good, compassionate things in the world.
What is your favorite position at the University?
My absolute favorite, without a doubt, is University Chaplain even though the focus is interfaith rather than just a single faith. I will be establishing the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and be overseeing the chapel. I am very excited because the position brings together my two passions.
I have loved my experience in administration because it taught me what higher education is all about.
I believe this go around I will have more to bring to the position given that experience. I always felt I was missing something when I wasn’t in ministry.
What does it mean to have an interfaith focus?
I see interfaith as two different things. It means that I need to make sure there are faith-specific programs for those faiths we have large and small amounts of.
For example, we have a large percentage of Catholic students and we have a critical mass of Muslim students. When you have those masses, we can do programming specific to these traditions. But we have to make sure there is space for all of the traditions.
The other thing is creating opportunities for students to experience each others’ religious traditions. What we know is when students create relationships with other students, bias and prejudice decrease.
An interfaith program will help meet the goal of a commitment to diversity. I think we will see programming that nurtures interfaith dialogue and activities.
It could be that we could come together to see how different religious traditions react to local and national issues, such as Proposition 8.
We can hear each other out on why we feel certain ways and change how we treat one another. As much as religious traditions divide us and cause conflict, they also have insight, wisdom and knowledge that could help us with these conversations.
I would love to create internships where students could be an interfaith ambassador to the campus for a year, even specializing in their own traditions. They would help bring people on campus and create programming.
Will you still be teaching religion courses?
Yes, I will. The religion department has always had a relationship with the chaplain. But next year I will not teach since I need to focus on the infrastructure of the program.
In the future I will continue teaching because I enjoy it so much. I couldn’t imagine not teaching.
Do you find that misunderstandings of religion cause a lot of the conflicts between countries?
Religion plays a part in world issues and conflicts, but it is not the only part.
It gets intermixed with more conflictive things, such as ideology, governments and natural resources.
All of these things contribute to serious conflicts. Without a doubt, religion plays a big part in this since it represents different world views.
I would never want to say that religion is the primary source for conflict in the world because it is far too complex.
Certainly some of the major issues we deal with involve religion more or less.
For example, the idea of homosexuality in this country can be tied almost directly to an individual’s religious background.
But the idea of immigration can be tied to religion, but it is not the central piece that causes the controversy. I think it depends on the issues.
Is there anything you want students to know about your plans for the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life?
I hope this program, as it develops, can provide students the opportunity to explore their own religion and traditions, while at the same time provide them with the legitimacy and the integrity of other religious world views.
Also, there is a study that says students want to explore how to have more harmony in their life or are practicing spiritual ideas.
One of our missions is to nurture the whole person while allowing them to still hold on to those values and ethics that they hold most dear.
The programming will help them connect to their whole self and not just their brain.
Kristen Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.