Skidmore Saratoga Memory Project

Interview with Parker Diggory

Dublin Core

Title

Interview with Parker Diggory

Date

February 16, 2018

Description

Parker Diggory joined Skidmore as the Directory of Religious and Spiritual Life in 2016. She talks about her relationship to Saratoga Springs, religious life on campus, and religious life in town.

Language

eng

Creator

Bogom-Shanon, Ari '18

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Ari Bogom-Shanon

Interviewee

Parker Diggory

Location

Parker's office in Case Center.

Transcription

Ari Bogom-Shanon: Ok, if you wouldn't mind just stating your name?

Parker Diggory: My name is Parker Diggory.

ABS: And your title.

PD: I'm the director of Religious and Spiritual Life at Skidmore College.

ABS: Great, thank you. So we're here on February 16th in Parker's office at Skidmore. So I'd like to just start off by asking about your connection to Skidmore College and where that started and what you do here now.

PD: Sure, so my connection to Skidmore college is really life long, both of my parents taught here, my father taught here for I don't know, three decades or more, and so I knew the campus from my earliest memories. I went to summer camp here one summer, I had one of my first jobs here when the Tang opened, working there. Yeah so I've been connected to the community in a number of ways, coming to performances, things like that. I took classes here while I was in high school as a special student, and then when I left for college and grad school and all of that I didn't have much of a connection to the campus for about fifteen years I would say. And then, just three years ago I came back to take on this position, at first part time and then full time, and now like I said I'm the director of Religious and Spiritual Life and that means that I work with other offices in Campus Life and Engagement and in Student Affairs to support the students primarily but really the whole campus in their religious life, in their search for spiritual connection, in their growing awareness of religion in general in the world.



ABS: Great, thank you. That's a bit about your connection to Skidmore, now I'm wondering if you can talk a bit about your connection to Saratoga, focusing on faith-based communities or if there's like a faith-based journey that brought you to this particular position here.

PD: Sure, so, again born and raised in Saratoga Springs. Um, went to public schools here and grew up in the same church that I'm actually attending now, which is the Presbyterian New England Congregational Church on Circular Street in Saratoga. And, it wasn't a very, hm, all-encompassing kind of church life, where everything you do and everything your family does is sort of, is connected to that community, but it was certainly very big in my life. We went to church a lot of Sundays, at least during the school year. We did volunteer work with them. That's where I went to youth group and went on trips and so that really was my forming—my formational community in a lot of ways. It's where a lot of my strongest friendships developed, in terms of you know when I was a teenager, the people who I still speak to now as an adult from my childhood a lot of them are people I knew through church. And then also that meant that other--that's how I got to know some other religious communities. There were some interfaith things that happen or ecumenical things. That's how I got to know the rabbis at Temple Sinai, because our congregation would do things together, or, you know there was usually a Thanksgiving kind of multi-faith prayer and just event, community event, that would happen and there would be different religious communities represented there. Yeah so that, and they, the church that I was raised in, like I said it's Presbyterian and Congregational which are two denominations and I personally am part of the Presbyterian denomination and that eventually became a path for me in terms of my professional development in that I went to seminary and I am in a sort of long, scenic route towards ordination in that church.



ABS: You talked a little about coming back to the same church community when you came back I was wondering if you could expand on what it was like to come back to this community fifteen years later.

PD: Wow, yeah, in many ways it was just wonderful to be able to come back to my home church community that it's, even while I was gone I would come back for holidays, or if I just happened to be in town over a weekend I would go to church. The congregation helped support part of my education, you know, this was who I kept in touch with so, in some ways I had never completely left. But, I would say, I guess if there was anything challenging about it, it was that I had grown in my faith journey in ways that I was a little worried wouldn't fit in to my home church. That, our church is known for a really broad diversity of theological beliefs and, I just, I didn't have the beliefs as I when I was younger which it to be expected but I just wanted to make sure that I was still gonna fit in and they, they're so accepting of so many beliefs that I knew intellectually that that would be fine, but there's still that nervousness of, if I don't feel like this is my home church now, like what would I even do, because it's where my parents go. I'm connected to so many families there, if I all of a sudden started going to say the Methodist Church or the Episcopalian Church like people would have questions. And, I never seriously considered not going, but there were times where I thought, if I had moved to this town as an adult and had never gone to any of the churches in town, is this the congregation I would end up. And I honestly don't know. I think it would be, just because it's unique in a lot of ways in this town and has a lot things I look for, but it was an interesting question to think about. And in other ways it's just been good to get back and to church life and, you know, I ended up being nominated for the board of the church and church leadership so it's a very different role than I had before, where I'd still get treated a little bit as one of the kids of the church but I'm, I'm treated as an adult and as a leader and with expectations and responsibilities which are different, which I value.



ABS: Thanks for sharing. So I think this is maybe a little of a transition into Skidmore and what that role is like but I'm wondering, for you coming to Saratoga was really coming home to you community and you talked about how we practice [sic] is so much bound up with how we grew up and what communities we grew up in, and for a lot of people coming to Skidmore they're leaving their home communities. So I'm wondering if you thought at all about that kind of relationship of working with a bunch of students here who are leaving their home communities and for you it's coming back to your community and if that influences your role here.

PD: Mhm. Sure, I think it does. I think one would be I try and use the fact that I do know this community really well, this Saratoga community as a way to connect students not just by which denomination they're looking for or you know, the name of the tradition they're looking for, but sort of getting to know the personality of the student and the personality of the congregation, and being able to say, you know, I think you're really gonna like this leader, or, you know, there are some folks who go to this particular service that are looking at the same questions that you're asking. And so, part of it is that, and I don't think it's necessary to do my role to have that sort of historical knowledge, but I've certainly tried to use it that way. And then the other bit is that I have to rely on my own college experience where I wasn't in Saratoga Springs, to relate a little bit more to what the students are coming in with. So, I went to college in Middlebury, Vermont, and, you know, they don't have a Presbyterian church there and so I found the next best thing for me which was actually a Congregational Church, and I looked up the worship times and I went. I was one of the only students who did, sometimes my sister came, she was at the same school, and that was it. And I realized only, you know, months later who else at the school might have some of my similar religious beliefs. That I didn't, I didn't find my kind of on campus religious community in some ways ever, but even a small part of it I didn't find for a while. And so I try and hold on to that experience and fill in some of the blanks I wish had been filled in for me, as somebody who didn't really know the landscape. What are some other ways that influences things [pause]. I think part of it is trying to ease the transition for students not just in the immediate religious sense. Right, I can reserve prayer rooms, I can hold services, I can bring in leaders and what-not, but there are home-y trappings of a lot of people's religious lives that I'm not gonna be able to completely replicate but I can try and offer or connect to or get a taxi to or something. So that's part of it to is just thinking about what--and asking the students--what feels like home to you. Because sometimes when they're asking me for support or for access to a community, you know they're using category names and they're using tradition names. But I remember, I was studying abroad, I did a gap semester after high school and I was in Jamaica, and I went church with my host family, but sometimes I would go to a church that was a little more like the one I grew up in. And I walked in and they had the same exact brass cross on the altar, and I almost cried. And, it's that kind of thing that I know that will help students, and it might just take a while to figure out what that is. To find that familiarity. So I'm not sure if that answers the--your questions.



[00:11:25.000]

ABS: Yeah, definitely, wow. Yeah it is almost that search for home that students come in looking for.

PD: Mhm.

ABS: Ok, so you've been here three years?

PD: Something like that.

ABS: Something like that? Which is pretty recent. Can you talk a little bit about your first impressions of the religious community at Skidmore?

PD: Hm. Well I admit that I had sort of made some assumptions based on my experience at a somewhat similar college and my knowledge of Skidmore. So, I probably didn't come in with a completely open mind in terms of, just, what's my first impression, you know completely blank slate kind of thing. It was more that I kind of assumed that it would be, not the most overtly religious campus, that it would be, um, you know that religions that are generally minorities in society would probably be a little more organized just by necessity, that we would have a lot of students who were maybe interested when they went home in still attending a service or connecting with a tradition. But at least while they were at college it didn't seem like a priority. And so that was true, those assumptions were proved pretty true. I think my impression was that it was very much, [pause], first word that comes to mind is underground, but that has some sort of like purposeful hiding that is only occasionally true. But that it was below the surface, how 'bout that, that the religious life at Skidmore was and still is to a great extent something that happens in a person to person sort of way, in a word of mouth sort of way. It's not the first thing you find out about somebody, it's not the majority of the events that are advertised. But when you scratch the surface it's there. And so part of my job is figuring out how much of that under-the-surface-ness is actually fine and desirable and what students and others kind of want and it's working really well and how much of it is happening simply because there isn't another way. Um, what else was I struck by. That's the first thing that comes to mind.



[00:14:13.783]

ABS: This is a bit more of just a practical question, but could you just talk a little bit about the different communities that are here, whether it's the more above-the-surface communities or any below-surface communities also?

PD: Sure, so in terms of named groups we have: Hillel, which is a Jewish student organization, broad spectrum in terms of tradition. Because we don't have, not just because, but we don't have kosher offerings at Skidmore and that and other reasons mean that we don't have a full range of Jewish traditions represented but what does exist, the only organized group at the moment is Hillel for them. There's Christian Fellowship, Skidmore Christian Fellowship, which is a chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which is a national and sometimes international thing, so is Hillel. And then we have a Newman club, which is for Catholic students. That has been from semester to semester more and less active. It's quite small, one of the primary functions is finding carpools to local Masses, so it's not one of the more active in terms of programming at the moment. Then when I first arrived, and still, we have Hayat, which is a cultural affinity group, not a religious affinity group. But it covers the Middle East and South East Asia and so they will do cultural events that are also religiously connected and things like Holi or a Lunar New Year's celebration sometimes, although there are also other groups who do those. Eid dinners for the Muslim community. So that also depends on who's in charge and who's interested in supporting an event, but they function in a lot of ways independently from my office and from the Office of Student Diversity Programming, but both of our offices do work with them. There's a Quaker group that is not an official club but they get together and through my office they advertise, they meet every other week and they advertise that through my office and I help make them connections with members of the local Quaker community. There are bible studies that are connected with Christian Fellowship but I think some of them are attended by folks who maybe aren't involved in the club more broadly but are interested in going to a bible study that maybe their friend is leading. There is a practicing Zen gathering that doesn't necessarily require you to be a Zen practitioner and to identify as a Zen Buddhist to attend, but there are certainly folks who attend who have been, who do identify that way, both from the community and the faculty and every once in a while some of our students as well. And then there are some students who will get together around a certain holiday or something like that. There were some Hindu students last semester who got together to go to a Temple for a particular holiday. And it was sort of under the auspices of my office, sort of under the auspices of Hayat. It will sort of be an ad hoc group for a specific purpose and then they sort of will dissolve again. I feel like I'm probably forgetting something huge right now. There are some other groups that include spirituality and spiritual connection as part of what they do and who they are, but they're less, I wouldn't call them affinity groups as much because they're going to have a much broader spectrum of beliefs within them and so, there's an inspirational choir called Rejoice, and for many of the folks there there's a spiritual component to what they're doing and what they're singing but they sing songs from many different traditions. There's a mindful movement club of students that do everything from learning modern dance movement techniques to yoga to, um, I think the circus club has done some things with them. So, again some of the folks there are regular yoga practitioners and for them that is part of a religious and or spiritual practice but it's not necessarily. And then there are the folks who come to the Skidmore mindfulness. So we have weekly meditations and yoga practices and reiki and things like that that students aren't required to or the rest of the community is not required to claim any particular tradition for nor are they likely to but they can, and many of them do express that this is a spiritual thing for them.



[00:19:22.000]

ABS: It's a pretty full list.

PD: Yeah [laughs]. Oh! I knew I was gonna forget somebody. When I started talking about Hayat I said, you know when I got here Hayat was doing all of this and they still are, but in the past year there's also been a bigger push from some of the Muslim students to actually have a club that is expressly for Muslim students. And there's been interest in that since before I got here, but our students are so involved in so much that it takes students who aren't just interested in it but are interested in taking leadership in it. And so there are some students who have started the process of making an official club, which is fantastic. But if that doesn't happen or until that happens, our office just continues to work with some of the Muslim staff and faculty to support the Muslim students on campus.



[00:20:12.000]

ABS: Can you also just talk a little bit about how staff and faculty are present in your office, if they are, if they have a relationship to these student groups?

PD: Sure, well I should mention my staff as well so, there are three professional staff and then a kind of rotating number of student staff. And that includes a coordinator for Jewish Student Life, Martina Zobel, and a coordinator for the Skidmore Mindfulness program Jennifer Schmid-Fareed. And the two of them work both with clubs and with students who's needs aren't being met by the clubs, or who just want to do things that expand the presence of religion or spirituality or interfaith on campus. And so, the three of us are the staff and we collaborate with a lot of other staff in terms of events. I mentioned the Office of Student Diversity Programming. The director of that office and myself we oversee the Intercultural Center together. So we try and make sure that whenever there are programs that are more automatically assigned to one of our offices that we're thinking more broadly about how the work of our offices might overlap for those programs. We work with the student leadership offices and their staff because they support the clubs and events on campus and that's an obvious connection. So there are some that are quite obvious. The counseling center does stuff with the Mindfulness program, the religious studies department will have [sic] us promote some of our events and vice versa, so there are some obvious ones. And then beyond that, there are stu—er, sorry, there are staff and faculty that will attend some of our offerings. Most of the events that we do are open to staff and faculty, so they'll come to Shabbat dinner or they'll come to one of the meditations. This week we did an Ash Wednesday service and I'd say there were maybe thirty-six people there and two-thirds of them were students and the other third was probably staff and faculty. So they, there's a few. It's not a majority by any sense, it's not a large group, but there's a handful that do get involved that way just by attending and participating. And then there are some who get involved in really supporting the work of the communities and so, there are staff and faculty who don't just come to the events but will help with hiring new staff, finding new advisors, being advisors themselves. And sometimes I know about that and sometimes I learn about it later. You know, sometimes there are staff or faculty who have been helping students get to church for years and I don't find out about it until a casual conversation. So, yeah some of it's formalized and some of it's very much about some of our staff and faculty just making connections and finding out a way that they can help students get connected. And every once in a while there's a collaboration that's a little less expected so, I'm trying to think of one but, you know there have been partnerships with the Tang Teaching Museum, and there have been partnerships with different academic departments, we've worked with somebody, actually from Documentary Studies Adam Tinkle, and he does work with sound and we do work with sound healing and things and so there are some neat overlaps of some of that work. And I like to keep a sort of somewhat secret entirely unofficial list of staff and faculty who have expressed to me that they're willing to be called upon for certain things. So if there's a student who's coming to me with concerns, especially if they're from a tradition that's not well represented in the Saratoga area, which is a lot of them, I try and keep a list of which staff and faculty I might be able to point them towards.



[00:24:27.000]

ABS: Very cool. So, you just said that there are a lot of students whose faiths might not be represented in this area, but I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about what connections have been made to groups in this area and Skidmore, and if you've seen a change in that? Either from when you were here growing up or from being here for three years and working in this position, and or if you have a vision for that going forward, in terms of where you want those relationships to be or go.

PD: Sure, um, hm. How to start. There are some formal connections, so the local reform synagogue Temple Sinai, their, one of their co-rabbi's Linda Motzkin does have an official role with us as a High Holy Days chaplain. Before that she worked even more frequently, or as a more permanent, not that's not right, a more--she had a larger role at Skidmore previously, in terms of Jewish student life. And stepped back a little from that but we're very thankful she stayed on to work with us during high holy days. And part of that is that that congregation is able to use Skidmore Campus spaces for High Holy Day services where the numbers would be too much for their space. And it gives our students the gift of being able to attend services both on their campus and with a multi-generational faith community. Which I think is really wonderful. So that's been going on for years and years and years. The other connections are primarily unofficial. Although, also within the Jewish community the Saratoga Chabad works with my office to come onto campus and do table outreach basically, and also working with the Jewish student community a little bit. And then there are churches that are more likely to attract some of our students. So for instance a lot of the students involved in Christian Fellowship, or at least a decent sized group of them will carpool all to the same church on Sunday mornings. And that's not an official partnership in any way it's just a little bit of word of mouth and a little bit of common traditions and so that happens. With the Catholic churches there are two parishes in town and I've invited priests and deacons from both of them to come and do services on campus and so that'll be a wonderful way of making that connection happen. But, students can also just go wherever they'd like. And so, similarly to some of the staff connections I don't know sometimes when students are attending services in town. I like to try and find out so that if other students are looking for someone to go with I can make some introductions. And I think that's generally the same as when I was growing up, though I certainly wasn't aware of religious life at colleges. It wasn't something that I was thinking of much except that I knew the chaplain here when I was younger. And in terms of what I want to see, hyper-locally like right in Saratoga Springs, I do want to get to know more and more of the communities and the leaders. A lot of them will contact me about events and I'll try and promote those, but there's also a, I have the sense of, I'm also feeling a protection of the campus? That there are, unfortunately, always going to be religious groups that aren't--that don't necessarily have our students best interest in mind or that bring a style of communication that is aggressive in a way that I don't think a majority of our students would like. And so because of that, I've been hesitant to just put out a blanket invitation to religious groups to come to campus. I usually wait for students to express an interest in a particular community and then I will reach out. So for instance with the local Quaker community. You know they come onto campus but because there's a student interest. So I would like there to be connections. I think especially there's a lot of potential within the volunteer work and social justice side of things. A lot of our local religious communities are on the front lines of working with immigrants and refugees in the area. They're the ones that make sure that the soup kitchen is staffed and that there are, a lot of them are volunteers at the homeless shelters and so I think there are ways there to strengthen already existing partnerships. We do have students already who volunteer with all of those programs. I think we could do it more and we could do it more specifically with our religious students. And then beyond that, beyond Saratoga Springs we've had a good experience getting students to one of the mosques for some of the Eids. Or, we partnered with one of the mosques on a service project. And that's been wonderful because there are plenty of colleges and universities in the capital district. And Skidmore's small little group of students is not going to be their biggest population of young adult outreach, but it's been nice to still make those connections and I want to strengthen that as well. Yeah it's interesting because a lot of religious communities, and I'm speaking primarily out of the Christian context but I know that it's not that different in other contexts. A lot of religious communities are feeling a need to hold onto young adults with all of their might, and I've been on the leadership of communities that do this where we, we see young adults and we see numbers. We see people to keep our traditions going. And it's very self--it's very much about us as a religious community wanting to not die out, and I want to help my own church but also all of the religious communities in town approach Skidmore students with a much more giving, a much more outward looking purpose. That this is not about whether or not we get to say, "hey we've got seven college students on our lists, we're not gonna die out," or "we're really cool with the young people," but more that isn't it great that these one student or these two students are being fed by this ministry. So that's something I'd like to see happen.



[00:31:33.793]

ABS: Thank you for sharing. That's all the questions I have but if there's anything you want to add that you felt like didn't get in there?

PD: I think one of the things I'd like to see both on campus and in Saratoga, and I think there are ways to maybe make it happen as a campus community partnership, is more engagement across ideological lines of religious communities. For example you show up to certain meetings in town of religious leaders working on a particular issue and you can sort of predict who's going to be there. And it's not that they're all the same religion it's that you're pretty sure they're all the same politics, or they're all the same, you know social views on different issues. And so one of the things that's great right now that's happening is two of the churches--so the church where the freeze shelter is hosted where Code Blue is hosted, Soul Saving Station, is very different from the church that I attend, but the church that I attend is also helping out Code Blue with some office space and some overflow space and housing people when Soul Saving Station doesn't have enough room. And those two churches could not be more different ideologically or theologically and still both be called Christian. But they are [laughs], and they're both doing this. And I think that kind of partnership, and that kind of getting to know each other could be happening more at Skidmore as well and in the town as well, so that we're expanding what it means to be religious for people who have doubts about their opinions on what it is to be religious. Maybe not doubts about their opinions, doubts about people who are religious, or doubts about people who are religious in a way that is different from them. So not necessarily interfaith cooperation but even within a tradition across ideological bounds.



[00:33:45.570]

ABS: Well, I wish you luck in this office

PD: Thank you

ABS: And all of your goals

PD: Thank you

ABS: Thank you so much for being part of this interview, and I'm not sure when it will go up but I will email you the link when it does.

Original Format

Audio

Record Creation Date

06/03/2018

Collection

Citation

Bogom-Shanon, Ari '18, “Interview with Parker Diggory,” Skidmore Saratoga Memory Project, accessed May 22, 2018, http://ssmp.skidmore.edu/document/777.

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