Last month, Harsha Menon (MFA'17) was appointed as the interim Buddhist chaplain at Tufts University following Venerable Priya Sraman’s mid-year transition to Emory University in January.
The Rev. Elyse Nelson Winger, university chaplain, explained why the Chaplaincy chose Menon for the position.
“Harsha was selected as the Interim Buddhist Chaplain due to her extensive leadership, scholarship, and practice within Buddhist communities, including the Tufts Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha," Nelson Winger wrote in an email to the Daily. "[She] brings a wealth of knowledge, compassion and experience to this role."
Menon received a master’s in theological studies with a focus on South Asian religious traditions from Harvard Divinity School, and holds a Master of Fine Arts in studio art from Northeastern University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts. Beyond her scholarly work, she is also a filmmaker with a certificate in advanced film production from New York University and a columnist on Buddhism in America for Buddhist Door Global.
Nelson Winger described some of Menon’s responsibilities as the interim Buddhist chaplain.
“Harsha will provide leadership for the Buddhist Chaplaincy, which includes supporting student leadership of the Sangha, leading weekly meditation, providing pastoral care, offering programs for the whole Tufts community, and working collaboratively with the University Chaplaincy team," Nelson Winger said.
Ryan Dreher, co-president of the Tufts Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha, was involved in the selection of Menon for the interim position.
"I actually was part of the interview process," Dreher, a senior, said. "There were some other candidates but I'm personally a huge fan of Harsha, I actually know her pretty well."
Dreher said Menon is very knowledgeable about Buddhism.
"The moment I saw that Harsha was applying for the interim position, I knew that I needed to do everything that I could to convince the actual higher-ups in the Chaplaincy to pick her," Dreher said.
Dreher also explained the role of the Tufts Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha, a student group that Menon will be supporting this semester.
“It's generally a group of … motivated students who want to create an increase in their amount of practice and the amount of knowledge of Buddhist texts and Buddhist practices and traditions," Dreher said. "They come from all walks of life."
Menon explained how she first became involved with the Tufts Buddhist community.
“I came, I think it was seven years ago, to a celebration at Goddard chapel … [to] celebrate the Buddha's birthday and it was hosted by the Tufts Chaplaincy," Menon said. "My first experience at the [Tufts] Chaplaincy … really sparked something in me because I immediately felt this sense of home."
She elaborated on her experience engaging with the Buddhist community as a graduate student at Tufts prior to taking on her current position.
“I started coming to the biweekly meditations and Dharma discussions … I also joined the Tufts Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha student group, and eventually became an executive board member [in around] 2016 or 2017,” Menon said.
Menon revealed how she would be supporting students and the Chaplaincy, as well as events and activities she hopes to plan.
“On Mondays and Fridays, we have a mindfulness meditation that's from 12–1 p.m. and anyone is welcome to come, so I'll be leading those meditations," Menon said. "I’ll also be nurturing, advising and supporting the student group, the Tufts Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha.”
She also detailed plans to begin another Tufts Buddhist lending library for students.
“When I was a Tufts student, I started, with Venerable Priya, a Tufts Buddhist lending library … That's also tradition in Buddhist cultures to have literature and books available so I'll be taking on that role to sort of take another inventory and replenish it when the chapel actually opens up for everyone," Menon said.
Menon discussed how her experience as an alumna and an active member of the Tufts Buddhist community helps her connect with current students.
“I was already so familiar with some of the older students, particularly the co-presidents, Kayleigh Ford and Dreher, since they were freshmen … so I've been able to watch them grow into these amazing leadership positions," Menon said.
She further described how she has seen the Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha grow, and what that means to her as the interim Buddhist chaplain.
“I've been privy to that sort of co-creation … I feel very much a part of it, and I feel that I'll continue co-creating it because I know what it means for everyone to have this really unique opportunity to study and practice Buddhism at Tufts,” Menonsaid.