Meeting the Moment, a new series of programs developed by Stanford’s Office for Religious and Spiritual Life for the 2020-2021 academic year, aims to help students and others confront “societal, economic and spiritual upheaval” brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alessandra Wollner is the director of a new program offered through the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life called Meeting the Moment. (Image credit: Raisa Aziz)

The programming was designed to inspire and to help the campus community find meaning during this unprecedented academic year and is intended for those with varied – or no – spiritual or faith backgrounds.

Some events and resources are for students, and others are available to the entire Stanford community. Virtual movie nights, with post-screening discussions, and online playlists are geared to monthly themes. Story Exchanges, in which strangers tell stories to each other, is designed to foster connections and community.

Much of the content is driven by the program’s Meeting the Moment Fellows. This group of seven students, who are enrolled full-time at Stanford, meet weekly, create and produce online programs and serve as teaching assistants for a repeatable, 1-credit course offered during the fall through spring quarters.

“We’re creating a suite of opportunities through which students can connect authentically, intimately and deeply,” said program director Alessandra Wollner. “Meeting the Moment, both the class and the fellowship, is also about integrating practices that will support students to architect meaningful, fulfilling lives for themselves. The need for that is evergreen, and will live on far past the pandemic.”

The program is a joint effort with Stanford Health and Human Performance, the Lifeworks Program and the Stanford Storytelling Project. It was developed through the Office for Religious and Spiritual Life’s Rathbun Fund for Exploring What Leads to a Meaningful Life.

Meeting the Moment Fellows selected the monthly themes – from “Finding Ground” to “Joy as Resistance” – and discuss them in online reflections and personal narrative podcasts in the style of the popular The Moth Radio Hour.

Darnell “DeeSoul” Carson, a senior majoring in cultural/social psychology with a minor in creative writing, is among the inaugural group of fellows. In a Monthly Reflection, he tells how he took developments in stride, at least at first, as the effects of the pandemic began to take hold.

Darnell “DeeSoul” Carson, a senior majoring in cultural/social psychology with a minor in creative writing, is among the inaugural group of fellows for the new Meeting the Moment program. (Image credit: Emily Mam)

“When news of COVID hit back in March, the realizations came in waves. The initial thought was the same as most students: extended Spring Break!” Carson writes. “But, as the updates continued rolling in, so did the questions I found myself grappling with: Where would I live? What did a virtual quarter mean for my ability to engage with school work? How would new social guidelines change my day-to-day life?”

Today, he adds: “Instead of trying to hold things together, I’ve started to acknowledge that everything I’ve grown used to is falling apart. I still make my plans – because that’s become an integral way I make sense of the world – but I’ve made a lot more room for maybes.”

Tiffany Steinwert, Stanford’s dean for religious and spiritual life, said awareness of such haziness and the need for inquiry and support is especially pronounced today.

“This year has been marked by a seemingly unending series of crises as one pandemic multiplied into many: as the virus spread, white supremacy and systemic injustice ravaged the nation, fires and hurricanes left destruction and devastation in their wake, and a contentious and fraught election season keeps us all on edge,” Steinwert said. “We are all learning what it means and how it feels to live in a state of constant, chronic stress. Ideally Meeting the Moment can help our campus community find hope and inspiration for what Harry Emerson Fosdick called ‘the living of these days’ or just ‘the facing of this hour.’”

Upcoming events in the new program can be found at Meeting the Moment.