Photograph Courtesy of Lewis and Clark

Hilary Martin Himan, LC’s new Director of Spiritual Life, hints at potential “culture shift”

In August of 2021, Hilary Martin Himan made Lewis & Clark history when she became the first woman and publicly LGBTQ+ clergy member to serve as  chaplain and director of Spiritual Life. 

Her predecessor, Dean Emeritus Mark Duntley, retired after almost 32 years of service. Himan remembers meeting  Duntley while she was attending graduate school at Oregon State University. 

“When Mark hired me on, I was first an intern and had approached him to try to do this project around LGBTQ spirituality,” Himan said. 

The project would become Spiritual Que(e)ry, an organization that seeks to provide safe spiritual opportunities for queer, questioning and curious students.  

“(Mark) was always looking for new avenues of how we can continue to encourage students in particular to have experiential learning in changing the world, in addressing issues of injustice,” Himan said. “I’m really looking forward to building on the legacy that (he) started, as well as moving this office into the future and evolving an Office of Spiritual Life to address our particular community.” 

Under Himan’s leadership, the Office of Spiritual Life is seeking ways to better serve students with secular identities. 

“If a number of our students are atheist or agnostic, how do we make this a welcoming place?” Himan said. “How do we still engage in those existential questions of ‘who am I?’ ‘Why am I here?’” 

Characterizing this move as “a culture shift,” Himan is planning programming that defies stereotypes about what role the Office of Spiritual Life can play on campus.

Last year, she facilitated “On Being: Discussions on Race & Healing” over Zoom, an event she hopes will continue in-person. Based on Krista Tippett’s podcast, the discussions explored topics often treated outside the purview of spirituality, such as how Civil Rights elders deal with exhaustion and rest.

When asked about Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Himan spoke about possible projects she might undertake to decolonize Christianity.

“I would just love to collaborate with the Native Student Union and Art for Social Change out of the grad school, and come up with a performance piece that offers some critical reflection on (Christopher Columbus),” she said. 

Himan also has a professional relationship with Eloheh Indigenous Center for Earth Justice, a farm and learning center dedicated to teaching Native and non-Native people alike to take better care of the planet. 

On campus, Himan has joined a multi-year effort to change LC’s academic calendar, which currently does not accommodate Jewish and Muslim students trying to observe their spiritual holidays. 

“I had a Jewish student raise the topic that, ‘hey, did you notice that we have fall finals that happen on a Friday and Saturday? It skips Sunday,’” Himan said. “This (finals schedule) is an example of Christian hegemony that needs to be addressed.”

In Judaism, Shabbat takes place from sunset to Friday to sunset on Saturday, while the Islamic holy day is on Friday.

“If there are students who want to work with me on this project, please have them reach out to me,” Himan said. “The more we hear from students about the impact, the better it will be to try and build empathy among faculty.” 

Students of any denomination with comments on reforming the academic calendar should email Himan at hmhiman@lclark.edu. For Himan, the need for this reform is emblematic of a larger issue.

“Religious identity is under the umbrella of diversity and equity, and yet, it feels like in the Pacific Northwest — and maybe at Lewis & Clark in particular — it’s still one of those identities that isn’t honored or lifted up,” Himan said. “For students who do hold those identities, it’s really important to them, and they want to be seen.”

Given that the reforms efforts could lengthen the semester, Himan recognizes that they could be controversial among students, faculty and staff.

 “With privilege, you always have to be willing to lose something,” Himan said. “That’s the question, right: What are people willing to give up to gain a sense of justice?” 

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