Happy Monday, Deac families. I have an enormous affection for the Office of the Chaplain, because there is so much important work they do – often quietly, behind the scenes – to support our campus. Our chaplains are full of empathy and loving-kindness, and they are wonderful campus partners in times of spiritual joy and celebration, but also when our spirits are lagging.

Ramadan began on Saturday, and we want to acknowledge our students and families who are observing. So today I am especially pleased to introduce you to Naijla Faizi (’14).Wake Forest University holds the second of four 2021 Commencement Diploma Ceremonies, for Bachelor of Science, in Joel Coliseum on Sunday, May 16, 2021.   Associate Chaplain Naijla Faizi gives the invocation.

Naijla, thank you for agreeing to be this week’s Meet A Deac! Will you please tell me your job title and how long you have worked at Wake? My title is Associate Chaplain for Muslim Life in the Office of the Chaplain. As for how long I’ve been at Wake, that’s a little more complicated.

I previously worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA in the Office for Civic and Community Engagement from May 2014 until August 2015. I then worked at Wake Forest in a part-time capacity from July 2017–July 2018. I have worked in my current position for a little over 2 years, from December 2019 until present.

And you are a Wake alumna, right? Tell me a little about your educational background. Yes, I got my BA from Wake Forest in 2014. My major was Religious Studies with a Concentration in Religion and Public Engagement, and I had minors in International Studies and Middle East South Asian Studies. I also have an MS in Nonprofit Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice in 2020.

Since you have been at Wake for a long time – both as a student and a staffer – you must have a favorite place on campus..? When I was a student, my favorite place on campus was the Quad right in front of Wait Chapel. I enjoyed hanging out with friends and relaxing after classes when the weather was warm. It’s also a beautiful view of both Wait Chapel and Reynolda Hall. Now my favorite place on campus is the Muslim Students Lounge in Collins Hall. It was a space that was created especially for the use of our Muslim community, with a dedicated prayer space and a lounge area for students to hang out or have programs.

How would you explain your job in layperson’s terms? I am primarily responsible for providing a variety of support for our Muslim students, faculty and staff. This comes in the form of pastoral care, spiritual support, providing religious programming, organizing the weekly prayer service, as well as planning holy day services on campus.

I directly oversee the Muslim Students Association and advise them in the programming that they offer Muslim students. I engage with students on a weekly basis in my work, either through the programs that I organize or through drop-ins for pastoral care. Essentially pastoral care is providing a listening ear for anything that our students are challenged with, and to give suggestions or advice if that’s what they’re looking for. But I want everyone to know that although I am a Chaplain for Muslim Life, I serve the entire Wake Forest community.

You have a lot of student contact. What would you say to a student if they asked for advice about college? My advice to Wake Forest students is to enter college with an open mind academically and socially. College is supposed to be a place where you question who you are and who you want to become. You should graduate from the university a different person than when you entered. Take courses that will challenge your assumptions about the world, so that they help you grow your perspective. Consider studying abroad in a culture that may be different from your own, so that you broaden your view of the world and learn cultural-competency skills. Delve outside of your comfort zone and learn to accept the feeling of discomfort. This is the space from which you will blossom. Engage with students who are different from you; they may end up becoming your lifelong friends.

And if you were talking to a parent or family member, what would your advice be? Following up the advice I would give to students, my advice to parents and families is to encourage and allow your children space to grow and challenge themselves. They may develop perspectives that are different than you intended or expected, but this is why they’re in college and why you’ve sent them to Wake Forest. If your students are struggling, remind them of the multitude of resources we have on campus. Faculty and staff are here to support your students and are always willing to help.

You started your current role right before the pandemic. That must have been challenging. Talk a little about that. My toughest challenge with relation to my work during the pandemic was staying connected to the experience of my students. Many students were experiencing Zoom fatigue and had little or no interest in participating in virtual programming or having additional virtual meetings. Although our formal programming decreased, one-on-one conversations and support increased during this time. It was difficult to see my students struggling (but totally understandable!)

What do you like best about working at Wake Forest? The best part about working at Wake Forest is the students I work with! They continuously challenge me to find new ways of engaging and relating to their experiences. The student body is constantly changing, and it’s magical to watch students grow from their first year until they graduate. It’s as if I’m watching a flower bloom over time. Parents have planted a seed and nurtured it into a plant that has grown. My responsibility is to help care for the plant, so that it can bloom and thrive before it joins a garden or forest. This is what brings me the most joy about my work.

Ready for the lightning round questions?

Book(s) you are reading now, or podcast(s) you are listening to: A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza, A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum, Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao, and The Beauty of Your Face by Sahar Mustafah.A place for us - book cover

Favorite music: My top genres on Spotify are Pop, 2000s R&B, Country, and Indian/Bollywood Music.

Favorite TV/movies/Netflix, etc.: Some of my most recent favorite TV shows are Ted Lasso, Insecure, and Only Murders in the Building. My favorite Muslim TV shows are We Are Lady Parts and Ramy. My all-time favorite movie is Remember the Titans.Ted Lasso

What would be a special indulgence for you? Watching Reality TV. I love Below Deck on Bravo, Family Karma, Selling Sunset Tampa, etc. Also Trader Joe’s milk chocolate covered pretzels and ice cream cookie sandwiches.Bravo show "Below Deck"

Introvert or Extrovert? Introvert. My enneagram type is 8. My Myers-Briggs is INFJ.

Something most people don’t know about you: I helped to start the first Islam Awareness Week at Wake Forest when I was a student. I also helped with organizing the very first Holi event at Wake Forest, which is now a beloved yearly tradition.Students and Winston-Salem community members attend Holi Festival on Hearn Plaza on Saturday, April 11, 2015.

Many thanks to you, Naijla, for all you do for our campus community’s spiritual wellbeing!

Reminder to all – the Meet A Deac archive is here.

— by Betsy Chapman, Ph.D. (’92, MA ’94)

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