Interfaith Student Council gains invaluable perspective on diversity, inclusion
For Immediate Release
University Marketing & Communications: Melinda Colton | 801-863-6807 | email@example.com
Written by: Kellene Ricks Adams | 801-863-8504 | firstname.lastname@example.org
After recently spending a week in New York City filled with visits with religious leaders and tours of sites of worship, Utah Valley University’s Interfaith Student Council returned to Utah with a broader perspective on religious diversity and a deeper enthusiasm about reaching out to all students at Utah Valley University. That is exactly what trip organizers hoped would happen as a result of what they plan on being an annual trek to one of the most religiously diverse cities in the world.
“New York is the epicenter of the interfaith movement in the United States, and there’s not a better place to expose students to religious diversity,” said Brian Birch, director of the Center for the Study of Ethics and the Religious Studies program. “We packed our week full of visits to as many different religious community sites and with as many interfaith organizations and leaders as possible. We wanted them to come back transformed and committed to reaching out and sharing what they had learned with the students here at UVU.”
Students and faculty representatives traveled to New York City in June. During the weeklong trip they toured the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Interfaith Center of New York, the Riverside Church, Faith House Manhattan, the Ganesh Hindu Temple, the Islamic Cultural Center, the Baha’I International Community, the LDS Public Affairs office, and the B’nai Jeshuron synagogue. At each site, they also visited with officials and representatives from each organization. In addition, the group participated in a Catholic mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and an interfaith dialogue with leaders of the local Muslim, LDS, and Jewish faiths.
“The opportunity for these students to do so many things in such a small proximity was incredible,” observed Alexis Palmer, associate vice president of student life and dean of students, who traveled with the group for much of the trip. “The questions they asked and observations they made showed the appreciation and respect they have for all religions. This was an eye-opening experience for them to see the differences between the different religions while also recognizing the similarities, the values that people of all religions share.”
Palmer said her personal highlight was the opportunity to visit New York University; the university has a Reflection Center much like UVU’s. “Seeing how they use their Reflection Center and how we can continue to better utilize our center was invaluable,” she said.
The group also visited NYU’s ‘Of Many’ Institute for Multifaith Leadership, a program in NYU’s Division of Student Affairs that concentrates on cultivating cross-cultural leadership experiences, with a focus on students who seek to develop a multifaith space that ensures harmonious relationships on campus. “They’ve been around for a few years, and learning from them and seeing how their organization works was insightful,” Palmer said.
In addition to providing the Interfaith Student Council with remarkable opportunities to learn about different faiths, Birch said the trip was also designed to be a retreat of sorts. “Throughout the trip, we met together and further developed the structure of the council as well as made plans for this coming year,” said Birch, who co-advises the group. “We identified who would be in charge of specific tasks and responsibilities and identified events that we want to include on our calendar. The interfaith council is a critical part of the University’s interreligious engagement initiative, which is being led by the students as much as possible.”
The University’s Interreligious Engagement Initiative is designed to support a variety of academic and engagement activities related to the study and practice of religion in comparative and cross-cultural contexts. The initiative supports events and projects that promote religious understanding through academic dialogue and scholarship and community engagement through targeted outreach programs.
“We’ve been very involved in getting things off the ground, but our goal is to have the students catch the vision of the initiative and take off on their own, planning activities and events that will engage and include all UVU students,” Birch said. “This trip, which will become an annual excursion for council members, is an important part of that happening.”