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Better Together

October 23, 2010

Two DePauw students were among hundreds of campus delegates to the inaugural Interfaith Leadership Institute in Washington D.C., Oct. 22-26. Muska Fahim '12, Hallie M. Moberg '11 and Kate Smanik, director of DePauw's Center for Spiritual Life, were invited to the nation's capital for two days of training in strategies to promote cooperation between college faith groups.

The Institute was a collaborative effort of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) and the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It was originally planned for 100 student leaders and 50 campus staff allies, but a high level of interest prompted organizers to create a second round of training sessions, doubling the number of attendees.

Fahim and Moberg took part in the second of the two sessions, which began with a greeting at the White House, followed by two days of training on Georgetown University's campus. 87066The training was meant to teach student leaders how to speak out about issues of religious conflict on campus, mobilize the community to take action, and build a foundation on which future students can continue their work.

"One thing I would love to see grow out of this would be improved interaction and cooperation between the campus faith groups," Moberg says. "All the different faith groups have aspects of service associated with them. They all do good work separately, but imagine what could be accomplished if we all came together and served the community and DePauw's campus together."

This year, students such as Fahim and Moberg have a new ally in Smanik, who took over as director at the Center for Spiritual Life in the summer. Smanik says she's excited by the possibilities for interfaith cooperation at DePauw and hopes to support student efforts to cultivate an environment of shared learning.

"We have an opportunity to engage our students in conversations, to say, 'You have a chance, here and now, to meet somebody from another culture and find out what they do and why,'" Smanik says. "I'd love for students to come up with a program based on the idea that there are no stupid questions. Ask the questions that you're a little bit embarrassed about – let's talk together."

87062Smanik and the two students have already planned an interfaith Thanksgiving dinner at the Center for Spiritual Life to kick off their redoubled efforts. Campus faith organizations such as Hillel, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) will be invited to share food and discussion in the Center's new home at 500 E. Seminary Street.

"The shift in space to this location has really given a boost to the faith groups on campus," Smanik, pictured right, says. "The MSA meets for prayers every Friday in the room above my office; our Hindu students are getting ready for Diwali, the Festival of Lights, and that hasn't been celebrated here in a few years; our Jewish students are starting to plan more social activities, and have been getting together more often; and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship has been meeting in our spaces and their attendance seems to be growing, which is great."

Fahim, an MSA student leader, says she's been thankful for the Center for Spiritual Life, which gives her group a neutral ground on which to organize with others, and a private space to observe her own faith.

"There aren't many places that provide students both an opportunity to practice and to share their religious traditions with others," she says. "Our weekly MSA prayers and meetings at the Center for Spiritual Life give me a chance to not only relieve my academic and personal tension, but also remain close to my religion."

"I’ve tried to make the Center a place that welcomes everyone," Smanik says. "Our visitors walk into a blank canvas, a room that’s designed to be rearranged so students can find the things they need for worship and set up a space that’s conducive to what they're doing. I think this new space is being used by more groups because it doesn’t look like it belongs to only one."

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