Author: Margaret Su
Following nine years of success with its Values and Vocations Fellowship, the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life (ORSL) is rolling out a new opportunity for students: the Social Justice Interfaith Practitioners Program.
Although it follows a similar model to the Values and Vocations Fellowship — which considers the intersection of social justice and spirituality — this program is distinct in that it focuses specifically on social justice in an interfaith context, according to ORSL Director Susan Young. Only four students will be chosen as practitioners.
“[This program will] help students who already have an interest in interfaith cooperation learn how to articulate that interest and turn that interest into specific ideas and events that they can do both on campus and in the community,” Young said.
The experience of hosting such events, Young said, will give students a more solid understanding of what is required to be an interfaith leader.
In addition to its specific focus on interfaith work, the program requires its practitioners to commit for both the fall and spring semesters, unlike the Values and Vocations Fellowship, in which students can opt to take part in either one or both semesters.
According to Young, the Social Justice Interfaith Practitioners Program requires a high degree of commitment, with students devoting 8–10 hours a week working at their community organizations of choice.
“It’s really up to the students to find [an organization] that meets the criteria of the program but also meets their personal interests,” Young said.
In addition, Young will host a weekly seminar that practitioners will be required to attend. This contributes to the time commitment of the program, for which participants receive a $1,300 stipend per semester.
Young hopes to build community within the group through these seminars. She stresses that a solid foundation of trust is crucial, as they will discuss sensitive issues such as students’ religious, spiritual, ethical and philosophical beliefs. They will also take part in values-clarification exercises and read articles around interfaith engagement and its importance.
Students will also be responsible for planning at least one relevant campus program a semester. At the end of the program, practitioners will write their own philosophies on why interfaith engagement is important.
“I hope that their work on campus through the program they’re sponsoring each semester will help other students to start thinking about the role that interfaith engagement can play in a larger mission to live a more just life,” Young said.
According to Young, the creation of this program was only possible due to a $20,000 grant from Network for Vocation in Undergraduate Education (NetVUE). Part of the grant will go toward the Interfaith Program, while the rest will go toward an alternative spring break program for students.
Although ORSL had already been working with the Office of Community Engagement to create opportunities on campus for interfaith cooperation, there was previously no specific program dedicated to this purpose. Young created this program by drawing from the model of the Values and Vocations Fellowship as well as from the experience of a colleague running a similar program at a different institution.
The White House Interfaith Service and Campus Challenge — a national initiative to encourage college students to engage in interfaith service and conversation — also played a role in inspiring Young’s development of the program.
Students of any religious or non-religious background were eligible to apply. Applicants had to demonstrate an interest in discussing interfaith cooperation and its importance in creating a more just society.
Somer Greene (senior), who took part in the Values and Vocations Fellowship in both her first year and junior year, thinks that the Interfaith Program will be beneficial for its participants.
“I feel like the social justice fellowship would really encourage students to embrace all parts of their life, whether it includes faith practices or not, for initiatives that are much bigger than themselves,” Greene said.
She believes that students become better advocates for social justice through the study of intersectionality.
“They’ll be able to better understand the impact they make as a volunteer and as a student, and that you don’t necessarily need to separate things so much,” Greene said.
The longevity of the Interfaith Program remains unclear, as the NetVUE grant was only for one year, but Young is looking into other means by which to continue both the Interfaith Program and the Values and Vocations Fellowship without the grants that currently fund them both.
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