Campus Interfaith Communities

Diversity and inclusion are important priorities at many, if not most, colleges and universities, perhaps even more today than in the past, with growing Black Lives Matter activism and colleges’ acknowledgement of the need for meaningful anti-racist policies and practices. Another diversity area where colleges fall short, according to Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), is teaching about religious identity and diversity on college campuses.

In a 2018 column in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Patel wrote, “in an era when colleges are expanding their engagement of diversity issues, and at a time when religion plays a central role in public life and global affairs, religion continues to be the dimension of diversity that many institutions leave out.” https://www.chronicle.com/article/faith-is-the-diversity-issue-ignored-by-colleges-heres-why-that-needs-to-change/

Patel founded the Chicago-based IFYC, a non-profit that promotes interfaith cooperation, in 2002 to bring together people of different faiths and worldviews in order to find common ground and “engage in common action around issues of shared social concern.” The work takes place on college campuses, because “campus is where students and educators engage the complex ideas that will shape our country’s future. It’s where young people learn to be citizens and leaders. It’s where issues of diversity and difference are explored intellectually and experienced personally and up-close. It’s an environment that can model the highest ideals of civil society alongside some of the most divisive conflicts that we’re grappling with as a nation.”  IFYC has worked with over 100,000 students on over 600 campuses to create interfaith clubs and organizations.  For more information about IFYC click this link: https://ifyc.org/about

IFCY’s work is particularly important in light of a recent study, reported in Inside Higher Ed, that reveals a declining exposure to religious diversity among college students. While students typically enter college with a commitment to religious pluralism, once on campus students “interact less with peers of different faiths and traditions.” To change this, colleges need to create “space for students of diverse worldview identities . . . encourage[e] interfaith friendship formation, and cultivat[e] interreligious literacy.” https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/01/24/study-shows-drop-new-college-students-exposure-other-religions

On this high holy day for Jewish students, it seems especially appropriate to remember the importance of faith and interfaith dialogue and connection on college campuses. As high school seniors finalize their college lists, and as juniors begin thinking about the college process,  they should consider the role of faith on college campuses, the commitment of the institution and student body to religious diversity, and how religious diversity intersects with other diversity movements on college campuses.