By Belen Edwards
Last Winter Quarter, the University of Chicago’s Office of Spiritual Life introduced their SOUPport program. Described as “a series of difficult conversations over a warm bowl of soup,” SOUPport aims to foster a sense of community during what can be an isolating time of year for many.
Seher Siddiqee, the Assistant Director of Spiritual Life and Advisor for Muslim Affairs, helped create SOUPport in an effort to give students space to discuss “bigger questions of identity and meaning,” she said.
“We’re talking about Winter Quarter,” Siddiqee said, “so we want cozy, we want warm, we want places where we can gather. At SOUPport, we provide a vegetarian soup and engage in a conversation with a pre-chosen theme.”
At the last SOUPport conversation on January 22, that theme was “How do I tell my parents…” Students gathered to discuss the theme with Religious Advisor Eric Schutt, one of the 20 to 25 religious advisors Spiritual Life works with in any given year.
“Bringing the advisors in for conversations like SOUPport is also opening up the larger community to the resource of the religious advisor,” Siddiqee added. “You don’t have to be of a specific tradition to talk to that particular religious advisor. All our religious advisors are open to talking to all students.”
A liaison from Student Counseling Service is also present at SOUPport. “It’s a way to demystify what counseling and counseling services are. Students could think, ‘I’ve talked to someone from that office, maybe they could be another resource for me on campus,” Siddiqee said.
The religious advisor opens the SOUPport conversation with a seven- to ten-minute reflection or story from their own life, and then invites students to share their personal stories.
“At the last SOUPport, one student came in saying, ‘I came here because there are two things about myself that I don’t know how to share with my parents.’ Then they shared them with the group,” Siddiqee said. “Once one student shares something personal like that, the rest of them do.”
Conversations like these help contribute to Spiritual Life’s desire to create community and spaces for belonging on the UChicago campus. “We all have values and a worldview,” Siddiqee said. “College is the time where a lot of that is challenged and we start to explore something new. Creating spaces for those conversations of meaning making to be had in ways that are comfortable to you as an individual are extremely important.”
SOUPport is only one of the many spaces Spiritual Life provides for students on campus to have these kinds of conversations. This quarter marked the start of Spiritual Life’s “Harry Potter and the Sacred Texts” reading group, which adapts different spiritual reading practices and uses them on various chapters from the Harry Potter series. Spiritual Life also hosts an interfaith movie night as well as Spirits at the Pub, where graduate students can meet with religious advisors at the Pub to share reflections.
Each of these activities allow for spiritual connections among students on campus, allowing them to support each other in different ways than they would in other venues, such as their Houses or in the classroom. “College is hard at times, and it’s a huge transition for people,” Siddiqee said. “Having the support of your peers is just as important as having the support of professionals or mentors on a college campus.”
The next SOUPport is February 19. The theme is “Multiple Religious Belonging,” featuring Religious Advisor Rabbi Anna Levin Rosen.