Yale Divinity School opens 191st year

By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications

Under glorious skies on Aug. 28, Yale Divinity School officially began its 191st year educating students for service in church and world.  The YDS community gathered in Marquand Chapel for Opening Convocation ceremonies, where a new dean welcomed them and where Professor of Hebrew Scriptures Carolyn Sharp exhorted students to “take no rest” in challenging the status quo and to “build pathways that will enable people to journey toward wholeness.”

ConvocationAmong those gathered were students in the entering class, 150 strong, including 73 enrolled in the M.Div. program, 52 M.A.R. candidates, 13 pursing the S.T.M., and 12 non-degree students.  There are 76 women in the new class and 74 men.

By the time of Opening Convocation, the new dean, Gregory E. Sterling, was practically an old friend of the new students, having gone through parts of the weeklong orientation with the entering class.  But he had some additional words of welcome to offer at the Marquand gathering: “We hope that you, too, will experience our commitment to faith, the challenge of intellectual rigor that the faculty will lay upon you, and the warmth of this community in which we hope you find a sense of security and belonging.”

Sharp, who in 2012-13 is also interim associate dean of academic affairs, took as her scriptural text Isaiah 62:6-12.  Encouraging listeners to consider the prophet’s invitation to explore alternatives to the status quo—alternatives that at times can disrupt and destabilize—Sharp observed,  “As we celebrate the beginning of a new academic year here at Yale Divinity School, Isaiah speaks to us.” [View Sharp’s entire address here.]

The prophetic message, Sharp argued, is necessarily about “mediating the purposes of God for justice in this world,” and in that context she went on to explore the implications of the prophet’s words for contemporary theological education.

Curricular excellence, she suggested, will benefit through recognition that older models of learning that “robustly defended against interdisciplinary incursions” should give way to new forms of teaching that are increasingly interdisciplinary and integrative.  Patterns of education that have “systematically ignored women, people of color, openly queer folks, and the poor” must cede ground to progressive approaches that welcome those constituencies.   Reliance upon the monologue of “the expert holding forth from an unassailable place of privilege” fails to recognize that honest learning is dialogical in nature and “requires wresting with difference.”  There needs to be an acknowledgment of the rightful place of “lived praxis,” or  “the nuanced critical engagement of our own embodied and lived experience in community” as a legitimate partner beside pedagogical theory in the theological enterprise.

Sanneh“Theological education is demanding,” Sharp concluded.  “It will require of each one of us—faculty, staff, and students—energy, generosity of spirit, courage, and, yes, resilience.”

Opening Convocation may have signaled the beginning of the new academic year, but it also came at the end of the weeklong Before the Fall Orientation for incoming students, led by Patrick Burrows ’14 M.Div. and Esther Boyd ’13 M.A.R.  During the week, students had opportunities to learn more about YDS and Yale, and to meet each other, from morning through evening, Aug. 20-24.   

The week started off with a special orientation for international students, followed by tours of YDS, Yale, and the library.  In late afternoon, Dean Sterling offered an official welcome to new students.  The week ended on Friday with an ice cream social, a talk by Director of Supervised Ministries Lucinda Huffaker, an Institute of Sacred Music chamber music event, and dinner on the Quad, followed by a closing social event.

In between were myriad practical, spiritual, and social gatherings, including chapel services in Marquand, sessions on registration and the history of New Haven, Black Seminarians worship, a Women’s Center breakfast, denominational lunches, seminars on information technology, a Karaoke night, an alumni pizza lunch, and much more.

The largest single faith grouping in the new class is the Episcopal contingent, with 22 students, followed by Roman Catholics at 15 and various Baptist denominations totaling 15.   There are 10 students who identify with various Lutheran denominations and nine United Church of Christ students.

Seventeen students identify as interdenominational.  There are two Jewish students and one Muslim.  Incoming international students number 21, and there are eight foreign exchange students.  A total of 14 oversees countries are represented.

SharpAs is true every year, the entering class is filled with students with particularly interesting life experiences and aspirations, including both those who are entering YDS directly from their undergraduate colleges and others who have already had careers.  A few examples, taken from the 2012 YDS First-year Student Profiles publication:

HeeChan Chang, M.Div. Institute of Sacred Music

B.M. Eastman School of Music, 2012

A native of Seoul, Korea, HeeChan Chang is a recent graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he studied violin performance under Charles Castleman. At the age of 15, he made his solo debut with East Texas Symphony Orchestra. He has served as principal violinist of Eastman School Symphony Orchestra, Eastman Philharmonia, and Colorado College Music Festival. HeeChan hopes his time at the Yale Divinity School and ISM will strengthen him as a Christian and provide training that will al­low him to become an effective minister.

Noah Cheses, M.A.R., Comprehensive

B.A. Yeshiva University, 2008

M.A. Yeshiva University, 2011

Noah Cheses is the associate Rabbi at the Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale Uni­versity, where he manages Yale Hillel’s Israel portfolio and teaches widely on Jewish topics. He is a proud graduate of Yeshiva University where he also received his Rab­binical ordination. Noah and his wife Sarah have served as the educational directors at Camp Stone and have lived in Israel for several years, where Noah co-founded the Tikvah Israel Seminars, a program that provides interdisciplinary forums relating to enduring Jewish questions facing the modern day state of Israel. Noah has worked on the Grounds Crew at Fenway Park where he mowed the field for the Boston Red Sox. Noah is also an avid runner who ran on the cross country team in college and who has competed in the Boston, Miami, and Jerusalem marathons. Noah and Sarah are parents of a sweet little lady named Adina.

Brooke Girley, M.A.R., Black Religion in the African Diaspora

BA New York University, 2007

JD Duke University, 2010

I am Brooke Girley and I hail from Ocoee, FL, a small city outside of Orlando. My degree program is in the MAR with a concentration in Black Religion in the African Diaspora. I attended undergrad at New York University and law school at Duke Uni­versity. For the last two years I’ve worked as a Civil Rights Lawyer along with my father at our family owned law firm. My academic interests are race, religion and the law. In my leisure time I love to listen to music. I know American Sign Language and have just taken up learning French. I look forward to my time at YDS.

Catherine Gorlin, M.Div., Berkeley Divinity School

B.A. Hunter College (Latin and Greek), 1984

Ph.D. Brown University (Classics), 1991

I am a 51-year-old gay woman. I grew up in New York City (Manhattan’s East Village) and currently live in Norwalk, CT with my domesticated partner Robbie, a West Highland White Terrier. I’ve had a long career in higher education where I’ve been a teacher, university administrator, and college dean. I long felt drawn to a more pasto­ral calling, however. I just finished a CPE residency at Yale-New Haven, which was a wonderful and transformational experience. Things I enjoy (in no particular order): kayaking; mysteries; opera; dogs; good food; sailing; film noir; non-sacramental wine; humor; bossa nova; and long walks--to name but a few!

Alison Iola Green, Exchange Student, Westcott House, Berkeley Divinity School

M.B. C.h.B The University of Glasgow, 1981

M.Sc. University College London, 1997

I grew up in Dundee, Scotland; have spent my medical career as a Community Pediatrician in Havant, England; and am now studying for ordained ministry in the Church of England at Westcott House, Cambridge. I like singing (church music), reading trashy novels and watching sport. I hope to see some high school and college football while at Yale.

Christopher Moore, Exchange Student, Westcott House, Berkeley Divinity School

B.A. (Hons) Religious Studies and Sociology, University of Stirling, 1995

M.A. Christian Ethics, King’s College, London, 1998

Born in 1973, I grew up in a small hamlet called Weeford on the outskirts of Lichfield, which is a cathedral city in the heart of England, UK. After leaving school in 1991, I moved to Scotland where I read Religious Studies and Sociology. Four years later, I moved to London to begin life as a freelance Ballroom and Latin American Dance teacher. I did this for four years while studying part-time for a Master’s Degree in Christian Ethics. In 1999 I qualified as an RE teacher and then taught for 12 years in two inner city London comprehensive schools.

Richard “Chip” Roughton, M.Div.

B.A. Asbury College, 1980

I’m pursuing ministry (and a degree) after 20 years of work in documentary tele­vision. Though the work was steady, well-paying and occasionally exciting (ask me about being threatened by the Hell’s Angels, Transylvanian pimps and tiger sharks…), I found it ultimately meaningless (ask me about my views on television…). If I can help expand people’s notions about “God,” I think I’ll have put the second half of my life to good use. If not, there’s always the garage band.

Gloria Thomas, S.T.M.

B.A. Interdisciplinary Studies, Southeastern University, 2009

M.Div. Duke Divinity School, 2012

My name is Gloria Thomas. I am from India but was born and raised in Bahrain, a small island in the Middle East. I moved to the United States eight years ago. My fa­ther is an ordained minister in the Indian Pentecostal Church. He has been my inspi­ration to pursue a career in ministry. My S.T.M. degree will be in Pastoral Counseling. I hope to someday go back to India and work with victims of the sex/slave industry. My favorite author is C.S. Lewis. My leisure time activities include reading, working on my journal and cooking.

Rodney Walker, M.Div.

B.A. Morehouse College, 2012

Rodney Walker is an alumnus of Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA. He is also the founder and CEO of Forever Life Productions; a company that creates custom videos and songs for special events. After being accepted to Morehouse College on academic probation in the fall of 2008, Rodney has had many academic accomplishments. He has studied abroad in Spain, served as a keynote speaker in Monaco, France for Ernst and Young, and has delivered a keynote at the White House on the importance of financial literacy for urban youth. Periodically he speaks to middle and high school students about the importance of education and the benefits of going to college.


Date Posted: Friday, August 31, 2012 - 1:41pm