Cooper McElvaney Peace and Justice Fellows

On October 30th, 2020 the donors for the Cooper McElvaney Peace and Justice Fellowship and the larger SMU community hosted by the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life gathered virtually to listen and learn about the experiences of the 2020-21 Cooper McElvaney Fellows. Rhonda Hodge (2020) and Nia Kamau (2022) spoke to the group about their respective summer experiences conducting social justice research on Black Christian communities navigating Covid-19 within their congregation and community (Hodge) and completing an internship serving as the primary correspondent and instructor for the Dallas Champions Academy (Kamau). Read more about these exceptional students’ insights and reflections regarding their fellowship experiences.

What ideas, beliefs, or values stand out as a result of your Cooper McElvaney Fellowship experience?

Nia: Service and justice work never stops. Even during a pandemic, the Cooper McElvaney Fellowship provided me an opportunity to continue advocating for equity and youth empowerment through CHAMP. 

Rhonda:  As a result of my Cooper McElvaney Peace and Justice Fellowship experience, I am encouraged and inspired by the richness, resilience, resourcefulness, and responsiveness of Black Christian Congregations in continuing to address the needs of their communities – even in the era of a global health pandemic. Clearly, it is not enough to only recognize problems, but to be change agents in providing solutions to past, present, and future issues.

What faith perspective informed your fellowship study?

N: Champ is all about empowerment, and I feel like our walk with Christ, as a Christian myself, is all about being empowered by God, and encouraging us to empower others to affirm other people and help them find their identity in Him, and help them fulfill their purpose in life. Empowerment really is the work of Christ and is a big part of what it means to be a follower.

R: Faith is the center of everything I do in my life. The Bible even talks about how our bodies are the temple, and if we don’t take care of our bodies, it’s really hard to take care of our spirit. I just believe that when we take care of our bodies, it is in line with taking care of our spirit.

What have you learned about yourself as a result of participating in this fellowship experience?

N: The Cooper McElvaney fellowship has given me an opportunity to connect even more with the faith community at SMU. Because of the Cooper McElvaney fellowship, I was able to work and do what I was passionate about and still be equipped with the resources to attend school. Also, the Cooper McElvaney fellowship has provided us with readings, [and] opportunities to really reflect on what it means to be a “justice warrior for Jesus,” and that has really challenged me in my beliefs and forced me to think deeper; I have enjoyed that experience.

R: [The fellowship] really helped me develop more agency, even though I was supposed to be in South Africa for a study abroad trip. This [fellowship] has helped in the way that I have looked at the overall picture of my education, and my ability to speak with authenticity, but also with authority in terms of social justice and human rights

What was your most rewarding moment during the summer?

N: My most rewarding experience during the summer was interacting with mentees and empowering them with the resources to maintain academic and spiritual health during the COVID19 pandemic. For many of our students, the summer quarantine was a time of isolation, loneliness, and loss. When they needed support, I was grateful that the CHAMP mentors and I could be there as resources and listening ears. I was also grateful for the opportunity to continue providing volunteer opportunities for SMU students committed to service despite COVID19 regulations.

R: Aside from receiving the news of being awarded the fellowship, my most rewarding moment was seeing the testing data, outreach programs, and my personal interviews come together to show the value of partnerships in service to God and others for the greater good of communities disproportionately affected by Covid-19.

How do you expect this experience will inform your decisions and direction going forward?

N: I think through discipleship. As someone who follows the Christian faith tradition, I know that discipleship is one of the commands that Christ gave us. Through Champ, we seek to really do that, not just through telling students that there is this guy Jesus who loves you very much, but to actually walk with them through the process of being a follower of Christ and having a transformed lifestyle and maturity.

R: This [fellowship] will give me a higher platform because I am able to literally go out into the community and do something that will outcast and outlive me. I will be able to present information on a current event, and hopefully encourage people to be a participant in their community, to take better care of themselves from a health perspective, to literally go out and vote as we think of who we are going to elect and who will be in favor of our healthcare, a real issue from a social justice and human rights perspective

The Cooper McElvaney Peace and Justice Fellowship aims to provide undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to deepen their understanding of social justice work either through a Faith based organization or by delving into the religious dimensions of social justice. The fellows will have the opportunity to work closely with Sungman (Tyler) Kim in the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, in a summer long exploration of social justice through works of Rev. William B. McElvaney and constructive conversations.

To learn more about the Cooper McElvaney Faith and Justice Fellowship, and other initiatives in the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, please visit

SMU names Lisa Garvin as chaplain, minister to university

Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs

August 26, 2020

Dear SMU Community,

I am pleased to announce that the Rev. Lisa Garvin has been named Chaplain and Minister to the University, effective October 19, 2020.

Garvin will replace the Rev. Steve Rankin, who intends to explore new ways to advance his ministry after 11 years of service to the University. Rev. Garvin will make history by being the first woman at SMU to hold the role of Chaplain and Minister to the University.

“I am elated to be joining the SMU community,” Garvin said. “To serve as your chaplain and minister to the University is a dream come true. I look forward to all the ways we will grow together in wisdom and faith. Building on SMU’s deep roots in the United Methodist tradition, I am eager to engage SMU’s rich diversity and expand the table of religious life on The Hilltop.”

A native of Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Garvin comes to SMU from Emory University where she served as associate dean of the chapel and religious life for eight years. She was also the director of Ministerial Services for the Bishop’s Cabinet in the Mississippi Conference from 2008-2012 and chaplain to her alma mater – Millsaps College – from 2005-2008. She has a lifelong commitment to church-related higher education.

Garvin is an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church and currently serves as a director of its General Board of Church and Society and chairs the board’s Advocacy Work Area. A member of the Mississippi Conference, Garvin served as a delegate to General and Jurisdictional Conferences in 2012 and as the secretary of the Committee on Higher Education and Ministry. She currently serves on the Georgia Prison Ministry Board and the Local Advisory Committee for AID Atlanta.

She graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and a Juris Master in Human Rights from Emory University School of Law. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in European Studies from Millsaps College. Garvin has been recognized by both universities for outstanding service.

Garvin has a special interest in human rights and racial justice, and has led travel seminars (journeys of reconciliation) to South Africa, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the U.S.-Mexico border and Cuba.

I want to take this time to thank and honor Rev. Dr. Rankin for the service he has given to the University as chaplain and minister to the University since 2009. He has been a servant leader, supporting the University’s commitment to spiritual growth and ethical behavior.

Thank you to the search committee for conducting a successful national search. In addition, thank you to those who interviewed and provided feedback on our finalists.

Please join me in welcoming Rev. Lisa Garvin to the Hilltop.


K.C. Mmeje
Vice President for Student Affairs

For more information about the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, please visit

Cooper-McElvaney Peace and Justice Fellowship (Part Two)

As I stepped off the plane in Washington D.C in the summer of 2019, I was filled with excitement and humility at the thought of how far I was able to come because of the Cooper McElvaney Peace and Justice Fellowship. Little did I know, arriving in D.C was only the beginning of the enormous impact on my life I would experience from my time as a Peace and Justice fellow. Just a few months prior to my interning with the Combatting Human Trafficking Team at the McCain Institute in Washington D.C, I was unsure of whether I would be able to afford to take such an opportunity. The Cooper McElvaney Peace and Justice Fellowship made my internship and so much more possible. As I worked and met with leaders in the field of anti-human trafficking work, I engaged in research that would then lead to the crafting of recommendations on how the state of Texas could strengthen its fight against human trafficking through a greater focus on primary prevention education.  

From gaining valuable research experience and networking opportunities to recognizing how my passions could blend with my career, I walked away from this research fellowship with a unique perspective on the future of my educational and professional goals. 

First, I quickly fell in love with both the type of work I engaged in at the McCain Institute and the experience of conducting my own research. Gaining real-world experience working on the issue of human trafficking solidified my goal of working on social justice issues from a policy and research perspective. I was also able to engage in conversations with former U.S ambassadors, attorneys, special advisors, the CEO of the largest, research-based anti-trafficking organization in the United States, and more. Each of these conversations was significant in opening my eyes to the diversity in educational and career paths that could lead to fulfilling and meaningful work for me. Each of their backgrounds were unique.  

 Although it may seem a simple fact, it was so comforting for a college intern like me, exploring the world of professional opportunities, to simply hear that there is not just one right path that will lead to success. I don’t have to worry about one moment of failure when the path to achieving my goals can be filled with twists and turns or ups and downs, and still lead to amazing outcomesjust like those of the incredible people I got to learn from through this entire experience. 

Read Part One

Madison Lopez (‘21) is from Lewisville, Texas. She is majoring in Political Science and Human Rights and her residential commons affiliation is Crum Commons. 

For more information about the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, please visit

Cooper-McElvaney Peace and Justice Fellowship (Part One)

Instituted in 2015 with the generous endowments of Robert Cooper and William McElvaney, the Cooper-McElvaney Fellowship provides students an opportunity to explore and deepen their understanding of social justice work. Supported by the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, the Fellows engage in over 100 hours of research and/or service related to a social justice issue of their choosing over the summer months and present their findings and reflections upon their return to the SMU campus. The overarching goal of this Fellowship is to move students from research to long-term action and engagement with these issues as they move into subsequent environments and chapters in their lives.

Last Monday night, I was ziptied and plopped onto the rough pavement of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge by police officers and National Guardsmen. Over three hours of kneeling beside seven hundred other protestors in anxiety and exhaustion, I reflected upon the metaphorical and literal roads that had led us all to that bridge to shout “Black Lives Matter” at the Dallas skyline. I considered the myriad circumstances that lead anyone to sacrifice their own safety, security, and certainty simply for the opportunity to speak. For me, it was a relentless series of events that had revealed my own privilege to me and convicted me to lend my privilege to justice. For most of those around me, it was centuries of trauma and oppression coursing through their veins and a determination to create the world they have been systematically denied.

This sobering reflection reminded me of the students with whom I worked the previous summer. Many young clients of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas had travelled a road filled with similar sacrifice and similar hope for a life of dignity and fairness. Forced to flee their home countries under threats of persecution, these students carried the weight of generations before them. As I learned more about their individual and parallel experiences as immigrants to the United States, discussions of college goals and financial aid applications began to seem trivial. I questioned whether I was qualified to support and advocate for these students or, for that matter, anyone whose experience I could never fully understand as a White person in spaces of advocacy. However, I quickly realized that the alternative was an unacceptable option: silence. It became clear to me that I had no moral choice but to use my voice of privilege, while intentionally making space for historically silenced peoples and communities.

My experience last summer was much bigger than a college access program or educational equity or even immigration justice. That summer taught me how to be an advocate for others by amplifying their voices rather than speaking in their places. In this sense, the internship that I completed through the Cooper McElvaney Peace and Justice Fellowship led me to the bridge last Monday. It prepared me to stand firm as an ally seeking justice—for Black lives, for immigrant lives, for all lives that have ever been discounted or marginalized.

Read Part Two

Written by Tannah Oppliger (’20), a Human Rights and Public Policy major. She is from Carrollton, Texas and her Residential Commons affliiation is May Hay Peyton Shuttles Commons.

For more information about the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, please visit