Grace Note Reflections on the Christian Life
What it looks like to mentor students, one cup at a time
By Caenisha Warren | Illustration by Rachell Sumpter
My drink of choice is a tall soy London Fog or a good Rooibos tea. It’s not exactly on the coffee menu, but it gets the job done. The value of the drink is the company of the drinkers. I attract a stream of students who move to a different beat from the campus life around them, similar to being a tea drinker in a coffee culture. It is in these moments, that I know why God has brought me to this place.
I have sat across from students expressing their laughter and tears from places of both hurt and joy; I have been privy to the inner workings of their identity discovery and formation; and I have processed with them what it means to live out justice and reconciliation. I have felt, heard, and observed the cries from the marginal spaces on campus, including the various struggles or victories in classrooms or meetings, within residence halls, or while serving in leadership. This chance to stop and fill our cups becomes an opportunity to share and reflect on life together.
I can call to mind many meaningful conversations that deepened the place of mentoring and reflection with individual students such as Christine Stalie ’10 around culture, responsibility, and expectation. Or I remember discussing academic disciplines, professors, or the right words for a speech with Rosa Covarrubias ’11. With Tanisha Hanson ’12, I remember relaying experiences and thoughts about non-traditional families and being mixed race. And then there have always been the questions about what is next after graduation.
Coffee connections have unfolded into innovative projects such as the In Context program — a quarterly, student-led discussion series on race now in its sixth year at SPU. DeHeavalyn Pullium ’11 created the idea for this Socratic style discussion series to provide a place on campus for students to gain experience in dialogue and build awareness around the importance for conversations about race. Our Multicultural Night of Worship is a re-creation from Ashley Reese ’09 who brought back her experience at National Christian Multicultural Student Leadership Conference to the SPU campus. The first MNOW celebration took place in Spring 2009, and continues regularly. I have had the privilege of cultivating projects like these, and more, through the simple combination of a hot beverage and good company.
It seems the coffee conversations have given energy to projects beyond SPU. My summers in the John Perkins Center are filled with complex conversations during July and August with our leadership program Urban Roots. We are joined with community partners Urban Impact, CryOut, and Seattle Union Gospel Mission’s Youth Services.
Each week our planning meetings in a coffee shop brew up a venti-sized discussion around faith, identity, purpose, community, and leadership with young people. In the program’s 12-year history, we have had interns who were graduates of SPU such as Nikkita Oliver ’08, Jerrell Davis ’14, Laura Wright ’09, and now community partners such as Katie Russell ’05. We have brought to life conversations about what it means to dig deep into ourselves — amid pain and struggle — for God’s purpose and promise to grow.
After they graduate, my relationships with alumni have continued to enrich my life by the cup. I have met alumni in other walks of life, now working at one of our organizational partners, such as Marissa Ukosakul ’11 at Urban Impact. Over coffee, we take some time to discuss the current climate around campus and get caught up on whatever is new in our lives. I run into alumni such as Rediet Mulugeta ’12, who works with Mission Year, at national conferences like the CCDA and grab a cup to catch-up. I continue do life, ministry, and friendship with Nikkita Oliver ’08 as she turns artist, activist, and attorney. And I continue to connect with some students I have come to call co-workers, such as SPU admissions staff members Jasmine Hairston ’15 and Tanisha Hanson ’12.
The walls of my office are lined with pictures of graduates who have touched my life during my time at SPU. There are many students who have indeed shaped my own journey in this place. Nurturing coffee conversations grow into relationships of trust and support, projects and presentations, graduations and recommendations, and, even more, into friendships.
Caenisha Warren is the coordinator for events and student ministries of SPU’s John Perkins Center, where she loves learning and sharing about culture, identity and reconciliation with students.