Students excited to participate in interfaith cooperation on campus

by: Jamie Wiggan, Culture Editor

As part of a shared “vision for interfaith cooperation on campus” Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) spent Monday and Tuesday at Chatham, consulting with students, faculty, and staff to begin initiatives for implementing this vision. Two focus group meetings were held on Monday, which gave students space to comment confidentially on their experiences of how different faiths are shared and expressed across campus.
The goal of the focus groups was to help give the IFYC representatives a reading on the “current campus climate” of interfaith matters. The first meeting was attended by three students. Megan Johnson, IFYC’s Senior Director of Campus Engagement, opened the discussion by sharing some results from a student survey conducted last year. Some of the findings included a notably high level of division between conservative- and liberal-identifying students, along with a low level of informal engagement between students of different faiths and traditions. “Informal engagement” was explained as time spent with other students outside of the classroom and other formal settings.
To ensure that students wouldn’t feel inhibited, the views expressed by students in the focus group were heard in confidence; however, two of the students present agreed to answer some questions for the Chatham Post after the meeting.
Tierra Brown is a graduate student at Chatham, studying Interior Architecture.  She expressed that “[her] faith has always been a part of [her] identity and . . a foundational piece of who [she is].” Brown, who has an undergraduate degree in youth ministry, plans to combine her two degrees by working creatively with the interior spaces of church buildings.
Brown was happy to comment on the ways that faith was handled differently when comparing her current experience at Chatham to her time as an undergraduate student at a Christian University.
“There, religion was seen and discussed almost everywhere . . .Religion was tied into each course and multiple different denominations were represented as well as talk about other religions. Faith was important and embedded into who the school was,” Brown said.
While not staking a claim to any particular religious affiliation could give Chatham the potential to appeal to a more diverse student-base than schools with a strong religious identification, Brown suggests instead that the university could be inhibiting students’ religious identification by underplaying the significance of faith.
“Here at Chatham, I feel as if faith is not important and is rather much hidden and kept a secret,” Brown said.
Sivan Nizan ‘18, an undergraduate student majoring in economics and policy studies, reflected a similar feeling.
“The focus group was helpful because it shows exactly where Chatham is lacking in terms of interfaith cooperation,” Nizan said.
She was referring to one aspect of the survey that suggested many students, particularly those who lean conservative, feel they cannot disclose their religious or political beliefs. While Nizan does not identify as conservative, she sees this as a barrier to open an authentic dialogue.
As someone who identifies as a non-practising member of minority faith, Nizan brings a unique perspective to the dialogue of interfaith representation. Although she carries her faith in a different way than Brown, Nizan’s interest in interfaith cooperation is equally personal.
“I know what it’s like to historically and personally be discriminated against based on religion, and I’m witnessing it on a societal-wide basis everyday,” Nizan said.
Despite recognizing the problems they are up against, Nizan and Brown both show some optimism about the future of interfaith cooperation at Chatham.
“I decided to start going to the Interfaith Youth Core focus group because I see it as an opportunity to be in fellowship with others who believe in what I believe in and have dialogue with those who do not believe in what I believe . . . This is a place where I believe to be safe and open to learn and grow.” Brown said.
Nizan points out on the other hand that by simply establishing a partnership with IFYC Chatham is demonstrating how it is invested in interfaith cooperation, even if there is much work still to do.
With the ground broken on IFYC’s vision for interfaith cooperation, the progress that it will yield will become clear in the coming months and years.