Interview with HDS Admissions Staff Assistant, John Rzasa

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Post by John Rzasa, Admissions Staff Assistant 

Editor’s Note: Meet John, the HDS Admissions Staff Assistant! When prospective students email admissions@hds.harvard.edu, John is the staff member who responds to your questions. In this article, we asked him a few questions so that you all could get to know him! 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you want the HDS community & prospective students to know about you? 

My name is John Rzasa, and I am the Staff Assistant for the HDS Admissions Office.  I have been in the role for a year and a half at this point, and previously worked at the Harvard Law School (HLS) for just over four years.  Outside of work, I enjoy writing, watching ‘B’ movies (or lower, all the way down to ‘Z’), and cats. 

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Favorite Things about HDS

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Editor’s Note: To celebrate the beginning of classes for the 2020-21 Academic Year, we decided to ask some current HDS students to write about their favorite things about HDS. Most of these paragraphs have to do with community at HDS, so we want to acknowledge how difficult it is for us all to be apart this semester. We’re hoping we can be back in person soon, and we’re excited to work on building community digitally this fall. Please enjoy reading about their favorite courses, communities, and experiences so far. 

Anna Ringheiser, MTS ‘21 

My favorite class my first semester at HDS was Religious Literacy and The Professions with Professor Diane Moore. I loved this class primarily because I had not previously encountered the term “religious literacy,” but I had felt the need for what the term describes in previous professional experiences. Another reason I loved this class was the diversity of ages, experiences, and opinions among my classmates. I was able to learn so much from them, which was helped by the small size of the class and Professor Moore’s teaching style, which gave room for everyone to share their thoughts. 

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Meet Our Incoming Students, Part 3

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Editor’s Note: This is the final post in our three-part series introducing you to incoming students! These students have come to HDS to explore everything from Buddhist chaplaincy to grief in South Asian traditions. This week, HDS students have officially finalized their schedules and are getting ready for the semester! We wish all these incoming students a happy first semester at HDS. This is part three of a three-part series—you can also read part one and part two. 

Rebecca Mendoza Nunziato, MTS ‘22, studying Latinx and Latin American decolonial spirituality 

My studies will center on the topic of decolonization and indigenous spirituality, specifically focusing on pre-Columbian Mesoamerican religions as a tool for modern Latinx spirituality (in hopes that ancient wisdom can be reclaimed and aid connection with the earth and one another). I applied to HDS because of the work of Professors David Carrasco and Mayra Rivera Rivera as well as the incredible course offerings of HDS. This summer I have been working full-time, connecting with my community in Denver, Colorado, and preparing to move my RV home and family (partner + pets) to the East Coast. 

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Meet Our Incoming Students, Part 2

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Editor’s Note: This post is part two of our three-part series that showcases incoming students. As we’re posting this article, these incoming students are beginning shopping week, during which students are welcome to drop in to as many classes as they want before they finalize their schedules for the semester. This is part two of a three-part series—you can also check out part one and part three.

Urmila Kutikkad, MTS ‘22 studying grief, body, and trauma within South Asian religious traditions 

At HDS, I am hoping to focus on themes of grief, body, & ritual as they play out in the spheres of gender/sexuality and South Asian studies. Much of this draws on work that I have been doing in the past year for progressive Hindu organizations (Sadhana and Hindus for Human Rights), as well as a prison abolition/restorative justice NGO in Bangalore. Although my relationship with faith growing up was fraught, I’ve gotten space to breathe and explore faith on my own terms in the past few years. Through this process, I have seen some of the most radical and beautiful social justice work being done on the grounds of faith, and my hopes of deepening this sort of work within Hinduism caused me to apply to HDS. 

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Meet Our Incoming Students, Part 1

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Editor’s Note: We had such an impressive collection of applicants this year, so we’re launching a three-part series to introduce you to some members of our incoming class! We’re publishing this post to celebrate student orientation, which is happening online this week. During student orientation—online or in person—students have the opportunity to get to know their fellow classmates, explore student organizations, and meet their faculty advisors. This is part one of a three-part series—you can also check out part two and part three.

Annie Hanock, MDiv ‘23, studying spiritual caregiving and multifaith chaplaincy 

As a nonreligious person, I was originally really drawn to HDS as a nonsectarian divinity school where I would be able to take part in theological study without committing to a specific religion or practice myself. Although I’m not entirely certain what path my studies as a Master of Divinity student will follow, I do hope to become a multifaith chaplain, and I look forward to learning more about spiritual guidance and counseling, liberation theologies, and religious spaces/communities in general as conduits for revolutionary change. Although COVID has made it pretty much impossible to prepare for my first year at HDS as I had originally imagined I would, I have been really lucky to be able to dedicate a lot of time throughout these past couple of months to some hardcore personal/spiritual reflection (usually while sewing potholders or knitting dishtowels in preparation for my move to Cambridge), which I hope will help guide me as I begin my studies. 

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Welcoming our New Director of Admissions, Odeviz Soto

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Post by Odeviz Soto, Director of Admissions 

Editor’s Note: This summer, we’re welcoming a new member to the Admissions team: Odeviz Soto, our new Director of Admissions. In this article, we asked him a few questions so that you all could get to know him! 

Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you want the HDS community & prospective students to know about you?  

Thank you for starting with this question. Here is a little bit of my background. I was born in Cuba and immigrated to Hialeah, Florida at the age of ten. As a first-generation student and member of a family with low socioeconomic status, I was in for a shock when I enrolled at Harvard College, but I absolutely loved my time there. I studied colonial and postcolonial history and was drawn to see how religion was used either as a tool of oppression or liberation in different contexts. After teaching for one year at a boarding school in Salzburg, Austria, I returned to Cambridge for my Master of Divinity degree at Harvard Divinity School. It was at HDS that I learned that anything can be done in a ministerial manner and that I wanted higher education administration to be my ministry. Therefore, I am thrilled to return and once again be a member of such a wonderful community. 

A picture of Odeviz taken via Zoom 
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Summer Field Education with Faith in Public Life

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Post by: Melissa Cedillo, MTS ‘21 

As an HDS student, summers are an exciting time to delve further into your studies in any number of opportunities, including participating in Field Education or studying a language in the Summer Language Program (SLP) or completing research through fellowships. Though two units of field education are required for MDiv students at HDS, MTS students who are interested are welcome to engage in field education as well. In this post, second year MTS student, Melissa Cedillo, reflects on her summer field education experience as a Harvard Presidential Public Service Fellow (HPPS) working with Faith in Public Life (FPL). 

Melissa Cedillo (MTS ‘21) 
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Interview with Kerry Maloney, HDS Chaplain and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life

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Post by: Kerry Maloney, HDS Chaplain and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life (RSL) 

Kerry Maloney has served the HDS community since 2004 as HDS Chaplain and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and, prior to this role, as the Associate Director of Ministry Studies. In this particular moment, we thought it would be helpful to hear from the HDS Chaplain about the different ways the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life has responded to the challenges present in the work of our community today. If you are in need of some spiritual resources, we encourage you to explore the “Spiritual Resources During the COVID-19 Pandemic” created by RSL. 

Kerry Maloney, HDS Chaplain and Director of Religious and Spiritual Life (RSL) 
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Q & A with Malini Srikrishna, President of the HDS Student Association (HDSSA)

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Post by: Malini Srikrishna, MTS ‘21 and President of HDSSA (2020-2021) 

Malini (MTS ‘21) is a licensed social worker, entrepreneur and minister of love. Her area of focus is Liberation Theology, Business Ethics and Spiritual Care (an area of focus which Malini created herself). The HDS Student Association provides students a voice in the administrative and policymaking procedures of the School and facilitates discussion among students, staff, and faculty. The elected student officers meet monthly with the Dean to discuss student concerns and issues that affect the entire community and provide opportunities for conversation among students, faculty, and staff through roundtable discussions and Town Hall meetings.  

Malini (MTS ‘21) 
President of HDSSA 
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Reflections on Activism, Organizing, and Angela Davis

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Post by Eboni Nash, MTS ‘21  

Eboni Nash is a second year MTS student, who recently interviewed professor and activist Angela Davis. In addition to her academic pursuits at HDS, she serves as Social Justice Chair for the HDS Student Association (HDSSA), the Office of Student Life Ambassador for Diversity & Inclusion, an Organizer for the Harvard Prison Divestment Campaign, and Vice President of Events/Organizing for Harambee, the HDS student organization for students of African descent. 

Where were you when it happened? I imagine this question, much like 9/11, will be asked of us by the younger generation. Where were you when the COVID-19 pandemic struck? For me, I was on a plane heading back to my mother’s house for spring break. I decided to go early to be able to celebrate my niece’s birthday, when I received the email notifying me not to come back to campus.  

Just like that, 2020 took another unexpected turn that forced us to adjust quickly. During our stay-at-home orders, I found myself wondering what I could do and how I could still be useful so far from my networks. After weeks of contemplating and eating entirely too much, I realized that organizing was still very possible.  

For the past three years, I have considered myself an organizer and activist. Starting with food justice, I directed a local nonprofit in Nebraska that helped feed low income families of elementary school students over the weekend. This exposure to food-insecurity, education surrounding the poverty-line, as well as hot zones for food deserts, really took hold of my heart. I eased deeper into social justice soon after when I spent a summer interning at Sunshine Enterprises in Chicago. 

Eboni Nash (MTS ‘21) // 
photo courtesy of Eboni Nash 
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