February Staff Highlight-Monica Sanford

Tell us a little about your RIT career…how long have you worked here, in what roles, etc.

RIT is my sweetheart job. I started on Valentine’s Day just last year, so I am coming up on my one year anniversary. I moved here from California to accept the position as Assistant Director for Spirituality and Religious Life (SRL). I’m a staff member in the Center for Campus Life, which is part of Student Affairs. When I’m not running around campus for meetings, I can be found in the Schmitt Interfaith Center, which is attached to the east side of the Student Alumni Union and is the home base for about eighteen staff who support religious life at RIT.


What do you enjoy most about your role as Assistant Director for Spirituality & Religious Life?

The favorite part of my job is providing spiritual care to students and staff in distress. That may sound odd, because we never actually want someone to be in distress. Nevertheless, human life is just distressing at times and I find it very meaningful to be able to support people during those moments. Last fall, the Pittsburg synagogue shooting and the tragic death on campus were some of the busiest and most exhausting times for me and my staff, but also some of the most meaningful because we were able to really do what we’re good at. Thankfully, most of the spiritual care I provide doesn’t rise to that level of intensity. It’s chatting with a student about an assignment they’re anxious about during weekly tea, or mentoring a young alumni considering graduate school, or making a safe space for the sadness of a staff person coming up on the anniversary of the death of a loved one. It’s those one-to-one and small group moments, and making sure other SRL staff can replicate those kinds of moments with other students everyday all over campus, that make all the programing and logistics and administration and finances parts of my job really worthwhile.


Tell us a little about “who” you are “outside of your RIT experience? 

There are a few facets to who I am. First, I’m a geek, so I was naturally very excited to come to work at RIT. I love science (especially astronomy), science fiction, history, human culture, anthropology, evolution, psychology, and, of course, religion. I can talk for hours about the Christian themes in Tron and the Buddhist themes in Tron 2 and how The Force compares to the Dao or Brahman. Or about the biological mechanisms in the human brain that make religion a natural and inevitable phenomenon of human culture. Second, I’m from Nebraska, so I inherited a healthy dose of Midwestern practicality and grit. I was the only one in my extended family to do something as crazy as move to California. Third, my family was very happy when I settled down with a financial analyst (even if he was from California) rather than the surfer bum I threated to find. My partner and I then uprooted last year and drove for four days to come to Rochester, where we are both loving it. He introduced me to ocean breezes and I introduced him to winter weather (fair trade, right?). We deeply enjoy hiking with our dog in the many wonderful parks in this area.


What is your favorite RIT event and why?

So far, my favorite RIT event was the interfaith dialogue hosted last fall called “In Loving Memory…” in which all participants were asked to share stories and ways that they honor their loved ones who have passed. It was a small event, about thirty people attended, but it was very moving. I was deeply touched by how willing people were to open up and share and how compassionately they listened to and were touched by each other’s stories. A close runner up was the program sponsored by Advance RIT that brought the Michigan Players to campus to demonstrate to faculty and staff through dramatic skits the impact that marginalization and oppression can have on students, even when unintentional or seemingly small incidents. I think dramatic demonstrations like that have a lot of power to illustrate how different people experience the campus climate in relation to diverse identities.


What is your favorite/best RIT memory?

My favorite memory is also one of my saddest, but I was deeply gratified by the turnout at our Prayer for Solidarity with the Jewish Community following the Pittsburg synagogue shooting last October. We organized that service on 48-hours notice and ten religious leaders stepped up to offer words, songs, and prayers of consolation and comfort, and over 70 students, faculty, and staff attended, including President Munson and his wife. Most importantly, the students shared with me afterward how impactful the service and the turnout was to them. I was just so proud to be part of such a responsive and compassionate community.


What is one thing about you the RIT community might not know?

My original career path was to be an architect. I got all the way through graduate school for dual masters degrees in architecture and community planning before my path shifted to become a chaplain and focus on spiritual life in higher education.


What is a project (personal or professional) that you are most excited about lately?

The most exciting professional project on my horizon is our next interfaith dialogue, which is called “Scientists on Spirituality” and will be held on Friday, March 1st, in Allen Chapel at 4:30 pm. We have four great panelists recruited from among the RIT faculty (two chemists, a physicist, and a mathematician) who will talk about how they live spiritual lives as scientists. The most exciting personal project is the ongoing effort to turn my dissertation into the first English-language textbook for training Buddhist chaplains. That’s how I spend my Saturday and Sunday mornings at the moment.


To date, what are you most proud of?

I’m very proud to work at RIT. Every day, I walk from my car to my office and think “I’m so glad I work here.” I hope that doesn’t change anytime soon.