Preeta Banerjee was named Tufts’ first-ever Hindu advisor within the University Chaplaincy at the beginning of the school year, following a hiring process that started in the spring. She joined the eight other chaplains and religious advisors in the Chaplaincy, who aim to provide students with a wide range of spiritual resources.
University Chaplaincy Program Manager Nora Bond was involved in the process to hire a Hindu advisor. She explained that the Chaplaincy decided to create the new position to better accommodate Hindu students on campus.
“Tufts has a history of creating innovative chaplaincies — including our Humanist Chaplaincy — and we recognized the growing presence of Hindu students on our campus and in colleges and universities across the country,” Bond wrote in an email to the Daily.
The Chaplaincy worked closely with the Hindu Students Council at Tufts to make the decision to hire Banerjee, who was chosen for her ability to plan innovative events and engage with students, according to Bond.
“The University Chaplaincy worked with student leaders in the Hindu Student Council in the interview process,” Bond said. “We recognized that [Banerjee] had many skills for connecting with students, offering meaningful programming, and being an active member of our multifaith team.”
Banerjee explained some of the responsibilities her new role entails, including catering to students’ spiritual needs as well as educating others about the Hindu community.
“As a Hindu Advisor, I work in partnership with the Hindu Students Council (HSC) to provide opportunities for nourishing the mind, body, spirit and soul,” Banerjee wrote in an email to the Daily. “I am committed to educating the campus at large about Hinduism and connecting the Hindu community to the rest of the campus through dialogue, social activities, and community service.”
According to the University Chaplaincy website, Banerjee obtained a Ph.D. in strategic management from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and has over 20 years of experience in the areas of academia and consulting.
Banerjee noted that some aspects of her work in the field of business are similar to her new role.
“Within business, my focus has been innovation, creativity and sustainability – all spiritual aspects of the practice of business,” she said. “I decided two years ago to commit more fully to accompanying others.”
HSC Co-president Akshita Rao and Vice President Athokshay Ashok explained that the HSC had been encouraging the university to appoint a Hindu chaplain for several years in order to have their interests better represented within the Chaplaincy.
“We’ve been trying to get [a Hindu chaplain] since my freshman year … it was still kind of difficult for [the Chaplaincy] to basically bridge that gap between our group and the University Chaplaincy group,” Rao, a senior, said. “We were trying to really push for someone who [is] more of an adult, who bridges that gap for us.”
Banerjee was favored by the students because of her open-mindedness regarding the diverse sects of Hinduism as well as her lived experience as an Indian American, according to Ashok, a senior.
“We didn’t want someone with a strict focus on any one sect of Hinduism,” Ashok said. “We wanted someone [with] an open, free mind, who can help us learn a little more about our culture and our history and our mythology.”
Rao believes Banerjee has been successful in fostering a nurturing community for Hindu students on campus, despite the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
She noted that Banerjee initiated a program that mailed Hindu comic books to students and invited them to meet virtually on Zoom for discussion.
“I think [the comic book discussion is] a really cool way to get people who are even not on campus engaged in what we do,” Rao said. “I think she’s done a really good job at facilitating a safe space and a community even though we’re all online.”