Meet Rev. Shantell Hinton, the first African American Chaplain at Vanderbilt University

by Carjamin Scott on June 23, 2018, at 10:56 p.m. CST

Just one year ago, Rev. Shantell Hinton, became the African American to lead in the Office of the University Chaplain and Religious Life (OUCRL) at Vanderbilt University. Prior to obtaining the role of Assistant University Chaplain, Assistant Director of Religious Life, she earned a master of divinity from Vanderbilt Divinity School. While enrolled, Hinton was awarded the Kelly Miller Smith Institute for Black Church Studies Certificate and the Florence Conwell Prize.

Hinton has a background in engineering. She earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Vanderbilt and a master’s degree in electrical engineering with a concentration in controls and robotics from Colorado State University. Her career experience includes working as a process control engineer and as a Bible teacher.

Hinton mentioned, “I think God called me to ministry because I had a desire to ask questions and learn how to apply them in church. I started with youth ministry and worked hard to make church relevant for our youth. Later, it evolved into a desire to make the church more relevant for this day and age – to help folks understand God and our faith in different ways.”

Hinton’s religious programmming has provided students with a safe space to explore their faith, an opportunity to celebrate their identities, and develop relationships between student groups who otherwise may not have interacted with each other.

Under her leadership, OUCRL has executed inclusive religious programming particularly for Vanderbilt’s growing students of color population. These programs have provided students with a safe space to explore their faith, an opportunity to celebrate their identity, develop relationships between student groups who otherwise may not have interacted with each other, and have an impactful dialogue about religion and spirituality.

The Shop,” a project dialogue program spearheaded by Hinton was a unique opportunity for students of color to engage in the dialogical exchange of wisdom with pastors, activists, professors, and elders from the greater Nashville community concerning the trending cultural topics that impact the lives of people of color. Some of the series speakers and topics were:

  • Pastor John Faison, Sr., The Relevance of the Black Church
  • Dr. Emilie Townes, Gender, Sexuality, & Race
  • Rhianna Anthony, Activism as Spiritual Praxis
  • Dr. Herbert Marbury, Black Masculinity & Spirituality
  • Judge Rachel Bell, Politics & Theology

These conversations focused on the intersections of Black spirituality, faith, and activism and gave students the opportunity to explore faith from different perspectives. In addition, “the Shop” offered cultural meals from local restaurants owned by persons of color.

“The Shop” was inspired by Hinton’s experience at the beauty salon. “I wanted to create a brave space for students of color to explore topics of intersectional identity in ways that are not typical in the classroom or the church. These discussions brought to mind how black barber and beauty shops always seemed to have lively discussions about all things and I wanted to replicate that,” said Hinton. Although created with students of color in mind, “the Shop” was able to transcend ethnicity to bring all Vanderbilt students together to worship and create new relationships.

Here is how Vanderbilt students have described Hinton’s impact on campus.

35781356_658717707808025_5990411941107990528_n.jpg“She is a great leader. When she first started to work as a reverend for the OUCRL she took it upon herself to create an atmosphere where people, regardless of their faith background, can worship. She established, “The Anchored Worship Service” that happens every month, allowing all people to come together to hear about and worship God. There are not many events and organizations that cater to the black Christian community so seeing this need she took it upon herself to create this service so that black Christians can have this time to worship. Another great aspect of her leadership is her willingness to listen and learn from others who are not in her position. She often meets with students to hear about their walks with Christ and loves to learn more about God through them. A great leader is one who uses his or her position to do good for others and not glorifies his or herself and Reverend Shantell definitely displays this humility. She also makes herself readily available for any person to come to her when they need to talk or need encouragement, even when she has a busy schedule. To me, this is one of her best leadership qualities because her interest in other people’s lives shows how much she cares about helping them and leading them to the best of her ability.” Deborah Opeke, Vanderbilt University, Medicine, Health and Society Class of 2018

36047339_1950506561668252_544907629034471424_n“Shantell Hinton’s position as Asst. Dir. of Religious Life and Chaplain was truly a blessing to Vanderbilt’s campus. For me personally, Shantell represented an older, mature, genuine, and caring person who helped me process coming into a new understanding of myself and my faith during my senior year. She indeed served as a confidante and inevitably, a friend. Shantell’s care for the mental, emotional and spiritual welfare of her students is evident by her dedication to understanding their perspective and needs. She then goes the extra mile to provide safe spaces for them to work through their individual personal development. Anyone who spends 5 minutes in her office, as many students have, can testify that she is likely the best listener they have ever encountered. She has a way of making nearly anyone feel comfortable in her presence and on a college campus where many are in need of someone to authentically reach out to them.” Shantell is a force that stands before you and boldly declares, “I see you. I hear you. I value you”. – Nancy Anosike, Engineering, Vanderbilt University

36038808_10215098729293426_3680850937619939328_n.jpg“Yes so for context, I just finished my first year in the med school. I remember coming across her name as a chaplain early on in the school year and making a mental note to connect with her but this didn’t actually happen until November. I randomly asked to meet with her and we set up a meeting for the Wednesday following Thanksgiving (Wednesdays were our day; promise my memory is not normally this good but this goes to show you her impact!). I think I came into the meeting with a therapy or counseling mindset because the next hour (or two?) consisted of me unloading my life story and eventually realizing this was probably a lot for an initial consultation of sorts. However, Shantell took everything I had to say in stride, helping me to unpack some relevant events and details, doing so with grace and patience, and even commented at the end about how much she had enjoyed our time together and how she would love to see me again after winter break. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised, as though I had secretly wanted her to be my new go-to person on campus, I certainly didn’t expect her to be so friendly and forthcoming right away. I somehow survived finals and winter break at home and promptly reached out to Shantell in January. I believe we touched base at the very end of the month, as that eventually became our thing: checking in the last week/day of each month. The second meeting (in January) was where I really solidified the importance of someone like Shantell in my life, as I didn’t need an official therapist or counselor anymore; I just needed someone who could understand and relate to my identity and story. I call her my unofficial therapist because almost all of our meetings are spent with me unloading or otherwise talking about me, and it never fails to amaze me how, Shantell is trained to listen and guide others and she does it all so intentionally and compassionately. There is so much about her that I do not know, and I sometimes feel guilty about that, but I know she wouldn’t change a thing—she may be open and vulnerable on social media, but she values her time with her students and wouldn’t want to take away from their sacred time, place, or space in any way. I genuinely look forward to each and every interaction I have with her, even if it’s just a quick one-minute catch-up, and I can confidently say that my first year at Vanderbilt in Nashville would have been negatively impacted if it were not for the presence of and finding the gem that is Shantell.” Keerthana Velappan, Vanderbilt University, Doctorate of Audiology Class of 2021

Honorable Mention

In April 2018, Hinton was featured as a Millennial Womanist to Watch for her work with “The Kaleidoscope Project“. “TKP is really just a way for us to share our stories and be apart of a beloved community of people who want to expand our vision as people of faith. It is my hope that it opens space for conversations that are not being held in church spaces enough and, as a result, help people experience newfound freedom in their faith walks,” said Hinton.

On supporting TKP, “People can support my work by offering me words of encouragement, prayer, and good vibes whenever you are able. Also, if you would like to partner with TKP, visit the website and click on the “collab” page. Lastly, spread the word. People can’t enjoy what they don’t know about. So, feel free to share my work on social media.” Like TKP on Facebook. Here is a video on TKP.

Are you a student that has been impacted by Rev. Hinton? Comment below.

Need to contact Rev. Hinton? Email here.

Request to publish or suggest a correction here.

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Carjamin Scott can be reached at carjamin.scott@gmail.com and you can follow her on twitter @scottcarjie.

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