Divinity Students Association Makes Gift for Current and Future Students

March 31, 2014

The Divinity Students Association (DSA), in partnership with the Grounds of Being Coffee Shop, has made a gift of $40,000 to the University of Chicago Divinity School for the purpose of enhancing the academic and personal welfare of current – and future – Divinity School students. 

The gift was presented to Dean Margaret M. Mitchell by Sara-Jo Swiatek, MA student and DSA President, and Elijah Kindred, MDiv student and DSA Treasurer, on February 11, 2014.

 “The student community at the Divinity School is diverse and continually changing. This gift reminds the student body that their voices matter and that they can have a positive and direct impact on improving student life at Swift,” said Ms. Swiatek, who will be entering the PhD program in Religious Ethics in the fall, about the gift.

The DSA’s donation represents revenue from Grounds of Being, the student-run coffee shop that inhabits space in the Swift Hall basement, long famous for its irreverent tagline – “Where God Drinks Coffee.” All profits from Grounds of Being are administered by the DSA.   The coffeeshop has been managed by History of Christianity PhD student Greg Chatterley since 2010 with help from financial manager Bethany Lowery, a PhD student in the Religions in America area. “The Divinity School Coffee Shop has always existed to serve the Divinity School and University communities,” said Mr. Chatterley. “We are beyond proud and excited to accomplish that purpose to the fullest extent by making this gift, and we are profoundly grateful for having the opportunity to do so.”

Dean Mitchell praised the group of student leaders who made this gift possible, saying, “the coffee shop under the current management is a wonderful business model of ecological sustainability and accountability to the community. It’s very fitting that coffee shop revenue should be used for the benefit of future students as well as current ones. The vision, foresight, and professionalism of the DSA leadership are simply remarkable and it will greatly benefit students now and in the years to come.”

The gift will be allocated in two ways: to set up the “Swift Cares Fund” and to be added into the DSA Endowment. The Divinity Students Association Scholarship Fund, originally established in 1997 with funds from the DSA, has been renamed the Divinity Students Association Endowment Fund.  The new Swift Cares Fund will support current Divinity students who are experiencing financial hardship due to a life crisis. Applications for these funds will be administered entirely through the office of the Dean of Students and will be strictly confidential.

According to Teresa Hord Owens, Dean of Students, “the Swift Cares Fund represents a legacy that will benefit Divinity School students both now and into the future.  Life’s emergencies will happen, and Swift Cares will help to ease the temporary crises that many students face.  I am immensely proud of our students for establishing such a tangible expression of compassion for their fellow students.”

The Endowment Fund, now called the Divinity Students Association Endowment Fund, is used to support Divinity School students and to enhance student life at the School. Possible uses include travel funds for students to attend or make presentations at academic conferences or enhancements to student-use common spaces. Use of the funds will be determined on an ongoing basis by the leadership of the DSA and the Dean and Dean of Students of the School.

The Divinity Students Association is run by and for Divinity School students and contributes to many spheres of life in the Divinity School: academic, professional, and social.  The DSA funds student academic clubs, major events and conferences, and social events that contribute to student life and camaraderie outside of the classroom, such as quarterly pub nights, a weekly coffee hour, and the famous “4-to-8”s. Above all else, the DSA is committed to fostering a true community of Divinity students from every degree program.  

While the gift was first publicly announced at a meeting of the Divinity School’s Visiting Committee on Thursday, February 27, 2014, it represents the culmination of well over a year’s worth of work and planning. Conversations about this gift were initiated in 2012 between the administration and the then-leadership of the DSA, particularly Chris Hanley (MDiv'13), President, and Peter Youngblood (MA'13), Treasurer, but also including prior officers Michael LeChevallier, (MDiv'11 and a PhD student in Religious Ethics), Jennifer Dixon (MA'13), and Rachel Watson, a current PhD student in Religion and Literature.

The 2013-2014 officers slate then took over in the hard and time-consuming work of creating and administering the gift. Ms. Swiatek and Mr. Kindred worked with the previous DSA board, Divinity School administrators, professional accountants, and the rest of the current DSA leadership – VP and MDiv student Jem Jebbia, Graduate Council Representative and MA student Ted Good, and Secretary and MA student Marcella Wilkinson – to work out multiple questions raising from major points such as how to use the funds represented to examining crucial details such as monthly financial statements.

 “DSA’s gift to the Divinity School reflects how much respect the students have for their School and how committed they are to supporting the professional and social needs of their peers,” said Ms. Swiatek. “It is my hope that with this gift, and the two funds we have set up this year, students will feel as though they have more support behind them as they pursue their rigorous studies.”