Q&A: New chaplains reflect on accomplishments from their first year on the Hill

A sign displays members of the University Chaplaincy outside Goddard Chapel on May 10. Mina Terzioglu / The Tufts Daily
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As the Class of 2025 finishes its first year on campus, three members of the University Chaplaincy staff are also able to look back at their first year at Tufts. Buddhist Chaplain Ji Hyang Padma and Humanist Chaplain Anthony Cruz Pantojas joined the chaplaincy in summer 2021, while Muslim Chaplain Najiba Akbar started in fall 2021. The three chaplains reflected on their first year in interviews with the Daily.

Editor’s note: These interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Padma spoke to the Daily in an interview and Cruz Pantojas and Akbar responded via email.

The Tufts Daily (TD): What drew you to join the Tufts chaplaincy?

Najiba Akbar (NA): I was drawn to chaplaincy because of the opportunity it offers to walk alongside others on their journeys of faith, meaning and purpose. I was drawn to Tufts specifically because of the wonderful team of people that make up the University Chaplaincy. I really appreciate how integrated the Chaplaincy team is and how we collaborate and work together to serve the campus as a whole.

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Ji Hyang Padma (JHP): I have been involved in Buddhist college chaplaincy since 1994, and so it’s a particular passion of mine. I feel like by giving a good foundation in meditation practice and ethics and … looking into the big questions, that really prepares us the best for the rest of our life. Tufts is a beautiful place to go about that.

Anthony Cruz Pantojas (ACP): During my graduate studies at Andover Newton Theological School, I had faculty and mentors who I looked up to. One of them was Dr. Celene Ibrahim who was formerly the Muslim Chaplain at Tufts. She invited me to visit the Tufts campus. During my initial visit, I felt connected to the community. When the position for Humanist Chaplain opened up, a few colleagues suggested I apply. I feel honored to be part of a dynamic and vibrant University Chaplaincy community.

TD: What has been your favorite part of working at Tufts so far?

NA: I have really enjoyed getting to know students and working alongside them to co-create our programming and community life. It’s also been a joy to coordinate the Ramadan programming this year and be able to break fast in community twice a week.

JHP: I think … just the range of life experience of students and the worthwhile goals and dreams that I see being nurtured here.

ACP: The ethos, collegiality, and commitment to foster social justice have been incredible to experience. During moments of joy, sorrow, pain, and uncertainty, I have witnessed how support is mobilized for the campus community. For example, I was on an accepted students panel through Student Services to answer parents’ questions about mental health and wellness — hearing my colleagues from around the institution and our shared transdisciplinary commitment to student well-being reminded me of how we are ‘inspiring minds and transforming the world’ together in community.

TD: What is something that you have done this year that you are most proud of?

NA: I was thrilled with how our interfaith iftar went this year! We had about 90 students come together at the Interfaith Center from all different backgrounds to break fast with the Muslim community. It was wonderful to have an opportunity to share that special moment and also hear reflections from students about their own journeys with faith, fasting and community.

JHP: I led two weekend retreats for the Tufts Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha and I think that the Fall Retreat had more applications than any retreat that we’ve had previously as an organization. …There were some students who told me that that was the highlight of their fall semester!

ACP: Having had the opportunity to co-build a community of learners, inquirers, and explorers who believe that coming together, serving, and mentoring others is necessary to revitalize the human condition.

TD: What is something about your role that felt new or took some adjustment?

NA: Learning all of the logistics required to do my role has taken some adjustment, however I’ve had great support from the chaplaincy staff in figuring that out. I now feel much better equipped in working with other departments as needed to do my programming.

JHP: I think one thing that took adjusting was all of the different campus locations. It’s one thing to get a kind of internal map of the Medford campus, but then also to go to the Boston campus, to go to SMFA … to keep track of all that — that took some getting used to. … I have not worked at a college that had that extensive a campus before.

ACP: Taking public transportation across campuses usually takes over an hour. I have to say that I am thrilled the Green Line is expanding near my home.

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