A Nation's Call to Action
“For over two hundred years, Americans of all faiths have come together, put their shoulders to the wheel of history, and made this country what it is today. And I know that as we go forward, it’s going to take all of us – Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim, believer and non-believer – to meet the challenges of the 21st century”- Barack Obama
In March 2011, President Barack Obama introduced the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge,. This call to action challenged institutions of higher education nationwide to commit to a year of “interfaith service” programming. Campuses were encouraged to tackle community challenges while recognizing and engaging the diverse traditions of those who were serving.
As a sophomore at Saint Louis University, I was already very much involved in our Interfaith Alliance and Better Together Campaign. To me, this call to action only seemed natural. Saint Louis University is a small, Jesuit institution that prides itself on mobilizing students for large-scale service initiatives, as well as celebrating the faith diversity within campus. However, rarely have the two been connected to each other. This would be one of our biggest challenges, I thought, when I first heard that SLU had signed on.
I have learned from firsthand experience that service is one of the most constructive ways to build bridges against diverse traditions. This past fall, our Better Together Campaign decided to combat the lack of multicultural education within St. Louis public schools. We partnered with inner-city schools to create and execute a global education plan that covered different regions of the world. The realization that I was the first Muslim that many of my students had met was shocking but also powerful. By volunteering to speak about my tradition, I was dispelling misconceptions that breed at that most basic level. For me, the intersection of voicing your values to others with the act of service is the heart of interfaith cooperation.
As the year progressed, I noticed that the President’s Challenge provided something that SLU had been lacking from years before: institutional support from the top, down. Although we had a student group on campus for interfaith programming, there was always a certain degree of complacency within our campus culture. Our Better Together Campaign was an entirely student-led movement, and to see SLU make interfaith cooperation an institutionalized priority was astounding. The President’s Challenge allowed our campus to centralize our interfaith efforts and create an inclusive sense of community that we were unable to achieve years before.
SLU has signed on for Year Two of the President’s Challenge after an extremely successful year. There are still many challenges that lie ahead, and I know that there is a lot of work waiting for me when I go back to campus in the fall. Yet there is strength in knowing that I will not be alone in my efforts. As schools across the nation continue to make interfaith service an institutional priority, we will truly be living out our national call to action.
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