Christine Sita Davé

Circles of Life: Experiences with expressive arts heightened Appalachian associate director's spiritual growth
Monday, June 17, 2013
by Susan King

Christine Sita Davé is the associate director of Student Support Services in the Learning Assistance Program at Appalachian State University. She works closely with first-generation college students, a population whose challenges Davé understands well, since she was one herself.

In 1988, Davé came to Boone with her husband, Dinesh Davé, a professor in the Walker College of Business, and their 4-year-old son. Since then, Appalachian has been the site of both her personal and professional development.

"I faced my fear of earning a college degree, especially as a first-generation adult student, by pursuing my bachelor's degree in 1994 at Appalachian," Davé said.

"My sons, Darshan and Kumar, were 10 and 4 years old when I began my studies as a part-time student. In 2001, I completed my degree in sociology and a minor in psychology. Most of all, I loved learning in the classroom. I became more confident about what I believed in, and I knew that I wanted to have a better understanding of how to genuinely connect with people," she said.

Fall 2001 through spring 2003, when her first son was just beginning his own college career, Davé and her family experienced a very challenging time. "We accepted the responsibility to support nine family members who had emigrated from India, along with a 5-year-old nephew whose military parents were deployed to Kosovo," Davé said. "I sincerely wanted to help everyone get adjusted to their new lives, but I became very depressed and disappointed with myself."

To counteract her despondency, in spring 2003, Davé applied for and was accepted into the master's program for community counseling at Appalachian, where she also pursued expressive arts therapy and addictions counseling certificates.

"This program saved me emotionally, personally and spiritually. My mentor, Dr. Sally Atkins, was instrumental in guiding me to take my first Expressive Arts Institute during the summer of 2003, where I had the most profound experiences. Spiritual images spontaneously emerged along with a beautiful image of my deceased mother," she said. "All of this was unexplainable to me. Yet, I also knew within my soul that these surprise messages gave me the clear hope that I had found my purpose in pursuing this graduate degree."

Additional experiences with expressive arts classes heightened Davé's spiritual growth.

"I graduated in 2006, and to this day, I cannot explain in words how grateful I continue to be to have been a graduate of expressive arts and the counseling program at Appalachian," she said.

In 2008, Davé was employed as the assistant director of Student Support Services, a federal grant program for first-generation college students from low-income backgrounds. She had held a graduate assistantship in the department for three years and observed an atmosphere of genuine concern, support and care for all the students served by the Learning Assistance Program.

"I work with amazing people like Cathia Silver, director of SSS, Janet Beck, SSS English instructor, and numerous other dedicated colleagues," Davé said. "I teach a first semester course for our SSS freshmen called 'Transitions to College.'"

Several expressive arts components are included in Davé's syllabus.

"Students create a timeline of the most important transitions that have brought them to college, or mandalas that depict how they see themselves inside the circle and how others see them outside the circle," she said.

A mandala -- literally translated "sacred circle" in Sanskrit -- is a geometric design that symbolizes the universe. Used chiefly in Hinduism and Buddhism as an aid to meditation, a mandala is often a circle within a circle.

Davé's students also create "vision posters" that project where they see themselves personally, spiritually and professionally in five years.

"These expressive arts activities seek to create a genuine atmosphere where students can honor, share and witness each other's lives," Davé said.

Last semester, her students began a new project: to connect with a school in India that was started by her father in 2001.

"Our students and their students have exchanged circles of friendship, which are mandalas with several questions -- 'How do you want to make a difference in the world? What challenges you? What makes you happy? What is your favorite holiday? What are you thankful for? What is your dream for yourself?' I believe that these expressive arts activities teach students to be mindful, thoughtful and supportive of each other's lives and journeys together.

"I am inspired to hear our students' challenges and how they face them with so much dignity and respect for each other. I am inspired every day to serve and mentor our first-generation college students," Davé said.

In addition to her role as student mentor and advisor, Davé is an expressive artist whose creative ventures include sacred nourishment, sacred ceremonies and rituals, sacred self-journeys and "Blissful Blessing" ceremonies for honoring any life transitions.

Davé is also a participating writer and founding member of Appalachian's Women's Writing Pilgrimage, a group of women from Appalachian and the community who meet monthly to explore a range of subjects through writing and performance.

Related links