My son just turned 26, and I often wonder if he sees me. He'll stop by for a visit and a nice conversation precipitated by my non-intrusive questions. Then as he is leaving, I say with a tinge of sarcasm, "So how was your week, Dad?" He'll glance up sheepishly, "Oh right... how was your week Dad?" I know he has to go, so I laugh and say, "Next time." I'm just trying to remind him that I am an actual person too, not just his "parental unit." In a similar way, it is easy for students to see faculty as figures rather than full-orbed human beings.
After all, faculty are the ones up front (or on screen) teaching class or running labs, the ones who mark papers and give final grades. Perhaps some come across as walking encyclopedias, alternately tedious and intimidating. Perhaps they are socially awkward, verbally obnoxious or politically caustic. Perhaps some scoff at spiritual reality or belittle personal faith.
Faculty can seem distant and other but they are people too. I can remember as a student running into a professor at the grocery store or seeing one with her little children at the park and discovering within myself a flash of surprise—obviously, I had never imagined them outside of their classrooms or labs or book-lined offices.
And the truth be told, often InterVarsity staff don't quite know what to do with faculty either. If I go visit him, what would I say? What do I have to offer a scholar like her?
But, of course, these men and women on faculty and in the administration are just like anyone else. Crazy smart, yes, but also exhibiting a mix of confidence and insecurity, hope and disappointment, convictions and questions, loves and losses. Some are arrogant, humble, kindly, or mean, sociable, lonely, cynical or open hearted. Many of them, especially adjuncts or grad student TAs, are over pressured, under-supported, and often under-paid.
Most importantly, each one has been created by God, is deeply loved by God, and ultimately needs God. And happily, some are walking with God in joyful faith!
So what I am suggesting here? Just this: try to get to know some faculty as persons this year. Go out on a limb. Stop by during office hours or initiate a conversation after class. Attend a social occasion that includes faculty. Ask questions about their lives as well as their academic loves. Express appreciation for their work, especially after your course ends. Pray for your professors.
And don’t be caught off guard if you have opportunities to talk with them about your life and your faith.
I especially hope that you will get to know some Christian faculty. Often they are eager to connect with Christian students but don't know how. Many may be open to a mentoring conversation with you, especially about your discipleship challenges or your intellectual questions. Many may welcome a chance to speak at a fellowship meeting about their personal story or how their faith relates to their vocation. Somce might open their homes for a gathering. After all, most of them feel a call to teach and serve and even love students. And when your group runs into problems on campus, these women and men may well become key allies.
Audry Puah, the Team Leader for InterVarsity as Sacramento State, recently expressed her joy at the re-recognition of InterVarsity on her campus (and 22 other Cal State campuses where InterVarsity was kicked off the previous year). She paints a picture of students and faculty standing together.
"I think the de-recognition was a spark of sorts that alerted us to other Christian faculty and staff on this campus...Actually, we just had a prayer meeting at our camp where we prayed together for the campus. Then faculty blessed the students in their ministry, and students then blessed the faculty. It was definitely a highlight of my staff life so far!"
Here's hoping that this kind of mutual blessing will happen on campuses across the country this year.