This past week I was asked to present “Interfaith Cooperation in the 2015 Biennial Utah Campus Compact Engaged Faculty Retreat: Including Community in Higher Education.” I was honored to be asked by the Executive Director of the Utah Campus Compact to come and speak with faculty, staff, and administration about how we can go about including interfaith dialogue on their campuses. I was challenged and excited on several levels. The opportunity to introduce interfaith into a conversation around all the fantastic community engagement activities happening in Utah was an amazing one.
The retreat had both the regular sessions, but it also had a pre-conference session. I was honored that the executive director asked that I present interfaith in a four-hour pre-conference session. I had the opportunity to start with three individuals from a university that had interest in make interfaith a larger part of their campus identity. I was so excited to share all that I know with them. I was thrilled because there was a mixture of both faculty and staff, from the service learning department and from the Education faculty.
The session followed the Ally track of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) Interfaith Leadership Institute. I learned the material during my first attendance in Chicago in June of 2013. It is humbling to think how briefly I have been a part of the interfaith movement. Next, I moved on to incorporating interfaith into the events that the university already had happening on their campus. Many times interfaith can seem incredibly intimidating because it feels as though a whole new set of programs will need to be developed. The truth is that there are already so many incredible activities happening on campus, and interfaith can be incorporated into them easily. For example, this university had a curriculum developed for teachers who were studying to be principles. The teachers needed to study a range of possible student identities including ethnicity, race, and socio-economic background. I encouraged the faculty member to expand that same curriculum to also include the religious identities. These types of programs that include exploring identity markers and self-exploration, the staples of the university experience, are easily adapted to include discussions of religious or secular identity.
The final portion of our time together was discussing how to gather folks on campus around shared values. The IFYC model focuses much more heavily on service and action as a group with varied religious and secular identities. That being said, there is a need to gather to discuss the projects that speak to our students. Those that impose service projects upon their students tend to find that it is a less impactful work for those receiving the help, coupled with the students being much less likely to ever return to serve in that capacity again. However, if students are allowed to choose their service opportunity, if they work toward effecting change in the social justice issues closest to them, students are more likely to return to do work for that organization over a lifetime. The strongest basis for doing social justice work in an interfaith setting is beginning with a conversation around shared values. What brings everyone to the table of hospitality, alleviating poverty, or preservation of the earth? These discussions can form the basis of new student organizations, and deeper commitments to working toward the common good of the group, university, and the broader community.
The folks in the session seemed to have a firm grasp of how they could go back and begin the interfaith conversation on their campus. It wasn’t going to be an easy task. They knew that there were those who would think that religious conversation of any kind would be inappropriate. They also knew that it would require effort on their part to not only make changes to their programing and course curriculum, but that they would also need to get administrative members on board with their ideas. Higher Education can feel like a place where nothing can happen if you don’t have a dean or provost or president on your side. That can be true, and I know that that can feel like an impossible task, but as I love to share, never forget the power of the undergraduate. Your students can say and do things on your campus that would or could get you fired. They have incredible power, when and if they are empowered by us as faculty and staff to lead and speak out for the issues that mean the most to them. We can help grow the interfaith movement across all of our campuses.
I have to thank Utah Campus Compact Executive Director Alexis Buchman, for having me at the Engaged Faculty Retreat and Dixie State University for hosting. If you are looking for any of the resources I’ve mentioned, please visit the IFYC resource page.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.