Illustration of a pot of soup

(Illustration by skalapendra)

What pairs well with winter and difficult conversations?

A warm bowl of soup.

Last year Seher Siddiqee, Rockefeller Chapel’s assistant director of Spiritual Life, was trying to figure out what kind of programming would help students manage the pressures in their lives. She kept hearing the same concerns again and again—and yet each student was certain they were the only one in such a quandary.

When then program assistant Nur Banu Simsek, AB’19, jokingly suggested a support group called SOUPport, Siddiqee had her concept. “Soup in the winter!” she says. “Because students always come for food. We’re going to be cheesy and go with it.”

The series SOUPport, Difficult Conversations over a Warm Bowl of Soup, was held one Wednesday a month, at lunchtime, during winter quarter 2019. Its topics: “How do I tell my parents …,” “Relationships,” and “Expressing my faith in the classroom.”

During the session on parents, participants brought up all kinds of disputes, and not necessarily the ones you might expect. Religious adviser Rev. Stacy Alan, who led the discussion, spoke about the first time she missed being home for Christmas—an important tradition in her family—because she wanted to visit a friend working in a war zone in Nicaragua. “I had always been a very cooperative and compliant daughter, even as a teenager and in college, so it was really important for me to own my decision,” Alan says—though in retrospect, she wishes she’d had more empathy for her mother’s disappointment.

During the discussion that followed, a graduate student brought up her parents’ lack of support for her academic work. “It became this incredible conversation about, who do we revert to when we’re around our parents? Because we all do it,” says Siddiqee. “You curate a certain version of yourself for your parents.”

Religious adviser Joshua Oxley, MDiv’13 (who’s now at George Washington University), led the second meeting, on relationships. Though it was held on Valentine’s Day, the session was about all kinds of relationships, not just romantic. “Several students mentioned concerns about friendships, especially those carried over from high school,” Oxley says.

The third and final session was inspired by students who had experienced “trying to use their faith as part of who they were in the classroom and being shot down,” says Siddiqee. The session was led by Yousef Casewit, an assistant professor of Qur’anic studies in the Divinity School, who talked about the notion of “insider versus outsider.”

While he teaches about Islam as a believer, his insider status doesn’t give him an advantage when it comes to doing scholarship, Casewit told the group. Similarly, being an outsider, or a nonbeliever, doesn’t make scholarship more objective.

With a faculty member leading the discussion, the dynamic was different—more of a lecture and Q&A format, says Siddiqee: “But the students were asking really meaningful questions. It seemed to be helpful.”

SOUPport returns this winter quarter, with slightly revised topics. “How do I tell my parents …” is back, but the others will focus on multiple religious belonging and the pressure to succeed.

Siddiqee considered making the soup from scratch, but “My boss was like, ‘Why are you putting more work on your plate?’” she says. “So instead we do this very fun recipe called canned soup from Costco.”

SOUPport soup

  1. Purchase a variety pack of vegetarian canned soup from Costco. “There are so many different dietary religious rules, vegetarian is just easier,” says Siddiqee. Last year she served lentil, tomato, and vegetarian minestrone.
  2. When you arrive at work, choose which soup to serve. Pour into Crock-Pot and heat.
  3. Serve warm soup with salad and “whatever fancy bread rolls.”
  4. Consume while engaging in heavy-duty discussion and making yourself vulnerable.