Lance DaSilva returns as DePauw Jewish Life Coordinator

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Participants set up their meals for the Seder at a table at the CDI on the second night of Passover (March 28).

DaSilva’s Background with DePauw

On Mar. 12, a SAL-utations (the Student Academic Life Weekly Newsletter) email welcomed Lance DaSilva as the “new Jewish advisor.” DaSilva has worked with and at DePauw before and is now working as the coordinator of Jewish Life. 

DaSilva also works with Indiana University Hillel (IU Hillel), a Hillel program DePauw is currently partnering with and has partnered with in the past, from 2011-2013, when DaSilva held a similar position. Though he returned to school to get a masters degree and then worked as a school counselor in high schools and middle schools, he remained involved with DePauw Hillel and the DePauw Jewish community. 

“I’ve always been involved here and there, since 2011, with DePauw Hillel,” he said. In February of 2020, he took a “development” role with IU Hillel, overseeing things like alumni and parent engagement, but since then, he has also become responsible for coordinating the student program. “I reestablished the partnership with DePauw Hillel and IU Hillel,” DaSilva said. 

“Currently, I work part time with DePauw,” Dasilva said. “I work with the Jewish student leaders to help them build community for themselves, students and community members. I also work with a handful of Jewish professors and their children.” He estimates that he works about ten hours a week for DePauw and works the rest of the time for IU Hillel. 

“I’m new, but I’m not new,” he added.

According to DaSilva, “this year in general has been completely different.” Aspects of the job that he says he took for granted, such as traveling between the universities, now require more planning. Organizing events and outreach to students has also become more complicated in the face of COVID-19 regulations. 

“It’s harder to build relationships with students when you’re like this virtual mythic creature that’s like sending them emails or trying to connect with them on social media,” DaSilva joked. “Who is this Lance character that’s trying to connect me to Shabbat?”

A Student’s Perspective

On Friday, Mar. 12, DaSilva visited DePauw’s campus to meet with students — some of whom he’d worked with before. “I’m proud and happy that we’ve got a nice core group of student leaders who are passionate about building community,” he commented. He also said he was “eager to meet new students … and [build] relationships with students.” He hopes to set up more one-on-one calls and to be able to visit campus more as more individuals get vaccinated. 

One such student leader is sophomore Sydney Greene, the president and treasurer of Hillel at DePauw.  

Greene said she didn’t originally think she was going to be involved with religion on campus, but  at DePauw she “noticed how small the Jewish population was.” She added, “I felt like I couldn’t really fit in because none of my friends knew, like, my holidays. Even if I wasn’t going to celebrate them, I wanted them to know it was coming.”

Greene first met and worked with DaSilva last year when she got involved with Hillel through a Media Fellows photography project in which she took pictures of a Shabbat service. She said the service was poorly attended and described it as “sad… It was so upsetting how few people there were.” 

After the service, she said, “I said to Lance, ‘Hey, do you guys need help? Because I want to be a part of this, I want to help you guys, and I want to get more people involved.’ And he said, ‘Yes, how do you feel about being treasurer?’” 

Greene accepted the position. Since then, she has continued her work with both DaSilva and Hillel and become the club president. She notes that her experiences have been “different,” because of COVID-19, which prevented or turned virtual many of Hillel’s normal events.

Sophomore Georgianna Port is in charge of marketing for Hillel’s executive board. She explained, “I started the process at the beginning of the semester, but I’ve been exploring it for awhile,” Port said.

“He’s great; he’s fantastic,” Greene said of DaSilva, who had been Hillel’s advisor her first year and has now returned to that capacity. “He’s a really good guy.” She described her experiences working with him positively. Port agreed with Greene’s comments, speaking positively about her experiences working with DaSilva as well. 

Looking forward to working with him again, Greene said, “I hope we increase student engagement.” She said she hopes Hillel becomes more “recognized,” and becomes something DePauw wants to advertise to prospective students. Port described her experience with Hillel as a “good one, but a limited one,” due to the small Jewish population on campus. 

Resources for the Jewish community on campus are limited, according to Greene. “We don’t get a lot of funding. I’ve tried to put in funds, and we get denied constantly. I don’t know if it’s something that I’m doing wrong because I’m the treasurer and I’m maybe putting in the event wrong or something like that, but there’s very little [funding].” 

Port said, “Most of our resources do come from Indiana University,” referring to DePauw’s partnership with IU Hillel. “They have a much more prevalent Jewish life than we do.”

Greene expressed frustration with understanding the DePauw Student Government’s system for requesting funds. She explained that a part of that may also have been impacted by COVID-19, as the informational meeting she attended on the topic was directly before students had to leave campus last spring. She also ran into complications getting Hillel registered as an active club last semester, leading to their events being inaccessible on Campus Labs, despite Greene’s attempts to get the proper information to DSG. “They need to make it more user-friendly,” Greene said. 

DePauw’s Center for Spiritual Life has rooms dedicated to different religions, Greene said, including one dedicated to Judaism, but she noted that the room was small and “messy,” and the texts, decorations, and religious items had not been updated or replaced in some time and were “out of date.” 

Overall, Greene felt the general DePauw population wasn’t very knowledgeable about or familiar with Judaism, which could be isolating for Jewish students, and hoped a stronger engagement with the Jewish community could be a way to address some of those concerns. 

Goals Going Forward

Going forward, DaSilva is hoping to work with current members of Hillel and DePauw’s Jewish community and to increase engagement among DePauw students, “whether that be other Jewish students or just students on campus who are interested in participating or learning or just advocating for the Jewish community on campus.”

According to DaSilva, the executive board of Hillel had eight members in 2011 and they often had “20 or more students,” attend events. “I remember one Hanukkah program we did, we had like, 60 students show up.” 

“The Jewish student population in general has been trending downward, probably since 2014,” DaSilva said. Though the university does not have an exact number for Jewish students, he explained that he is able to “ballpark” it from the students he interacts with. He estimated that he interacts with about half as many Jewish students as he did in 2011.

“My question is: are there fewer Jews? Are there fewer students who are self-identifying as Jews? Would they be more inclined to self-identify if there were actually Jewish programs on campus and there was a community that was trying to generate their interest?” he asked.

Greene expressed similar concerns, saying, “There’s so few Jews on campus. We have like a list of people to reach out to. There’s maybe 24 people on that list, out of how many? And not everyone wants to be involved with Judaism, not everyone wants to be involved with religion in general, going off to college.” 

DaSilva hopes the executive board for Hillel can once again reach eight members within the next few years and believes that would help increase and strengthen the presence of DePauw’s Jewish community. He noted that that community may be a deciding factor for some prospective students interested in the school. 

Hillel has a number of events coming up, including Shabbat services — such as one on April 2 that DaSilva plans to be on-campus for. According to Greene, the executive board is also looking into planning social events this semester. DePauw students are also welcome to join any of IU Hillel’s virtual events, DaSilva said, as part of the partnership between the two schools. 

April 12-16 IU Hillel will be having “an Israel week,” according to DaSilva. “Any program that we’re doing, DePauw students would be able to partake in those.” Port described IU Hillel’s programs as an important resource for Jewish students at DePauw, due to the campus’s smaller Jewish population. DaSilva is hoping to “take a group of Jewish students to Israel next summer, for free, with IU Hillel.”

DaSilva said he wanted the community to know he was there for them. “I’m in the market for engaging students who are interested in getting involved, so involvement could mean a hundred different things,” he said. “My biggest thing is, I want to meet students where they’re at.”

DaSilva offered his email, lancedasilva@depauw.edu, for students interested in getting in touch with him. 

DePauw Hillel publicizes their events through their Instagram, @hillel.at.depauw