The Gustavian Weekly

Interfaith programs foster acceptance on campus | The Gustavian Weekly

By Michaela Woodward - Staff Writer | October 11, 2019 | Variety

Gustavus strives to be an interconnected and accepting community, and one of the ways this is accomplished is through the interfaith organizations on campus.

Though the college is rooted deeply in its Lutheran history, there are resources for students of all faiths, backgrounds and denominations.

Inclusivity and education are priorities for all of the religious organizations and they work to create spaces and opportunities that are open for all.

Interfaith Program Coordinator Marian Broida elaborates on the goals of her position, saying that her purpose is to “support students in practicing their own religions or worldviews while on campus, with a particular focus on non-Protestant students; and to promote knowledge and appreciation of different religions among the student body as a whole.”

This connection between education and acceptance makes these programs important and accessible to all students, regardless of their personal experiences with spirituality.

Students are encouraged to explore their own backgrounds and beliefs, as well as those of their peers through interfaith organizations in a casual environment with resources they are comfortable with.

Not only can faculty members be resources, but student leaders are as well.

Senior Anna Duong-Topp, Co-President of the Gustavus Interfaith Forum, invites students to see student leaders as a resource as well, either for getting involved with the interfaith organizations or simply having a chat.

“We also encourage students to grab coffee, lunch, or a quick walk with one or both of us if they ever want to talk about life. Life talks are definitely our forte,” Duong-Topp said.

The Gustavus Interfaith Forum is resource for students who simply want to have a place to discuss how faith relates with their life.

“[It] is to create a space where students can explore their spirituality, whether it be through direct dialogue or actively listening to others. We do our best to foster relationships, cultivate knowledge, and work toward common goals across worldviews,” Duong-Topp said.

The themes of education and acceptance are reinforced and anyone who wants more information is encouraged to reach out.

The meeting times for the Gustavus Interfaith Forum change every week so that everyone has a chance to attend, no matter how busy of a schedule they have.

The other interfaith based organization is the Multifaith Leadership Council.

“[The Multifaith Leadership Council] supports unique religions and spiritual practices of people from other traditions,” so that everyone has a space to openly practice their faith, Chaplain of the College Siri Erickson said.

“We to create spaces that are easy for students to access. There can be a lot of fear or uncertainty around religion in general. People don’t really know what to expect. I think the student interfaith groups are always trying to figure out how we can lower those barriers and create spaces where even if students are uncomfortable at first, they are engaging in religious diversity and making those connections,” Erickson said.

Erickson points out that the purposes of educating and making connections creates a cycle in which appreciation of different traditions leads to more curiosity and seeking out connections.

The work done in these organizations is not the same as activity-based clubs.

Interfaith organizations lead themselves to intellectual and social curiosity, creating more knowledgeable and accepting individuals.

While the current interfaith programs are active and inclusive, there is still work to be done.

“The college is working on an interfaith strategic plan in which faculty, staff, and students are working together. We are currently conducting listening sessions and gathering feedback on how we can do interfaith work better,” Erickson said.

Interfaith understanding is being supported and cultivated on campus, fostering the  development of the inclusive and educated community Gustavus strives to be.

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