In a time of cultural, political, and religious division, our nation needs interfaith leaders who can break barriers and build bridges across difference. As microcosms of the religious diversity that is shaping American life, colleges and universities are environments ripe for interfaith cooperation. As students from diverse faiths and worldviews converge on campus, interfaith leaders are engaging this diversity by creating experiences that lead to cooperation, not conflict. American campuses have long been at the vanguard of movements for social change and today can play a critical role in bridging diverse religious and worldview identities and casting a vision for an inclusive society.
IFYC offers Campus Innovation Grants in the amount of $2,000-$4,000 to support campuses as they implement sustainable initiatives to address the cultural, political and religious divides facing our country and advance interfaith cooperation.
Grant applications will open this winter and be due in spring 2020 for the 2020-21 academic year. All four-year American college and university campuses are eligible to apply for a Campus Innovation Grant. Feel free to review last year’s Request for Proposals and application questions, linked at the bottom of this page, to learn more about the last round of grants.
If you have questions about the Campus Innovation Grants or want to express early interest in the next round of grants, please contact Brian Anderson at email@example.com.
Case Studies of Past Grant Recipients
University of Alabama - Tuscaloosa
The University of Alabama - Tuscaloosa’s student population is diverse in many ways, including religious identity and political affiliation. In today’s climate, students from opposing political groups on campus rarely engage one another in meaningful conversation and often hold stereotypes about those with different perspectives. Lane McLelland, director of the Crossroads Community Engagement Center on campus, wanted to change that.
Through a Campus Innovation Grant, Lane led an initiative called the “Faith and Politics Dialogues” that brought a politically and religiously diverse group of student leaders together to develop a strong, sustained network of campus leaders who would build political and interfaith understanding.
The Crossroads Community Engagement Center partnered with the Sustained Dialogue Institute, the Iranian Students Association, and the Presbyterian (USA) campus ministry to recruit 15 participants, including 3 graduate student mentors/facilitators, to participate in an opening retreat and six monthly dialogues over the course of the year. The group intentionally included students who voted differently in the 2016 election and fell on different sides of current political, cultural, and religious divides, including the president of the College Republicans, the president of the Black Student Union, an officer of the Mainline Christian Campus Ministry, and an officer from the Muslim Student group, among others.
At the opening retreat, students were trained to dialogue in a way that seeks to understand the perspective of the other, without trying to convince or argue. Facilitators modeled a respectful tone and set expectations that the dialogues were not debates or analytical discussions, but rather were opportunities to learn skills for understanding different perspectives.
Student participants were profoundly impacted by the experience. In spring 2018, the dialogue participants engaged in a dinner and panel conversation with approximately 30 guests who were invited to hear about their experiences with the program. These guests included a number of vice presidents, deans, department directors, faculty members, and student leaders from across the university. When one vice president asked the students if they ever felt like giving up, one student participant shared, “I think previously I would've felt that way, and somebody could've said something and I would've been like, ‘I'm out here. This is ridiculous. I can't, I can't have this conversation.’ But with the questions that we were taught to ask, and the ways that we were taught to think about these things during these discussions, no, I never felt that way. If I began to, I was [thinking], ‘What am I not asking? What am I not getting?’ And then I would ask that, or somebody else would. And we did dialogue.”
When asked about the impact of the program, one participant from the Muslim student group shared, " when you start talking and you understand why people have certain beliefs depending on their background and their past experiences, it forces you to also become a little bit more introspective when you start to voice your opinion. I found myself kind of backtracking on my own thoughts and trying to pinpoint my own experience. What kind of experiences that I had that led me to make that decision. So, I think that's also a really powerful part of the dialogue, is that it teaches you a lot about yourself and your own experiences."
Another student from a mainline Christian campus ministry said, "I think it's really important -- what we did so successfully was -- to humanize each other. You know, you associate favorite foods with people's faces, or where they're from with their interests and what else they're involved in. It's not just, you know, X is a horrible person who thinks this horrible thing. It's, you know that's a human being, and I disagree with them but they're human. They have valid experiences and opinions, even if we can't, even if we can't come to a common ground."
The Crossroads Community Engagement Center is continuing the program in 2018-19 and has also arranged for students to receive course credit for participating.
Founded on Jesuit principles, Fairfield University has long welcomed people of all faiths and traditions and worked to create interfaith spaces. However, the campus recognized that local and national cultural divides meant students needed more opportunities to learn about other worldviews and more encouragement to engage religious diversity on campus. After completing an annual campus-wide Quality of Life Assessment, Fairfield found that for students who identify as Jewish, Muslim or Atheist, only 13-16 percent rated the campus climate as “excellent” compared to 53 percent of Catholics and Christians.
With a Campus Innovation Grant, Fairfield’s Center for Faith & Public Life and Office of Residence Life partnered to create a new program: Interfaith Peer Ministers – undergraduate students who help build positive attitudes on campus toward diverse religious and nonreligious traditions. The program, now moving into its second year, trained students to be peer ministers in first-year residence halls and among commuter students. Interfaith Peer Ministers learned about things like What Makes Interfaith Ministry Different, Sharing Faith Journeys, and How to Facilitate Conversations that Matter. Throughout the semester, the group met weekly, in addition to holding events for other students to improve interfaith literacy and making themselves available to talk through worldview questions and concerns as they arose. During their weekly meetings, the peer ministers engaged in an Interfaith Examen, “Finding God in All Things: An Interfaith Journey,” which is an adaptation of the Ignatian Examen and was facilitated by Rev. David Spollett, the campus Protestant minister.
In January, interfaith peer ministers returned to campus early and joined the Resident Assistants (RA) training. The joint training built awareness and collaboration among key student leaders, and Interfaith Peer Ministers were invited to help plan the semester of programming with the First-Year Resident Assistants and Commuter Peer Assistants. In this way, the program began to integrate interfaith learning and listening into everyday campus life. In addition to providing intensive training for the peer ministers, the program is also beginning to have an impact on the broader community.
One interfaith peer minister said, “Knowing that these programs take time to build relationships, I had set out this semester to simply be recognized by my students on campus. Now I find myself running into them all over, especially in the Tully Dining Hall where we will always sit and talk for a while. I feel that the most important part of being successful in this position is that I create regular dialogue with interested students. Hopefully this will help when they would like to talk about something a little more serious.”
After the grant year, the Office of Residence Life and Center for Faith and Public Life assessed the pilot program and based on its success, chose to continue the program. They recruited seven new Interfaith Peer Ministers for 2018-19 and enriched and deepened the curriculum through enhanced training, closer collaboration with the RAs and other teams in the residence halls, and more intensive interfaith literacy events. In addition, The Office of Residence Life staff altered their annual “Quality of Life Assessment” to include more questions that explicitly examine the experience of non-Christian students on campus and their perception of a welcoming climate in order to continue to inform their programming in the future.
Nazareth College is working with students in the School of Education to bring interfaith inclusion into K-12 classrooms. The College has long been known for its teacher education programs and their Campus Innovation Grant project was one more step in providing the most relevant tools for future school leaders.
Nazareth’s grant project was a partnership between the School of Education and the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue. Both well-regarded institutions at Nazareth College, this is the first time they have intentionally partnered to provide teacher training.
During the 2017-18 academic year, 40 education majors participated in interfaith professional development before commencing student teaching. The student teachers met with faculty and interfaith leaders to learn how to include religious literacy in the classroom. They learned why it’s important to be aware of the needs of religiously diverse students, who may have dietary restrictions or need accommodations for their particular observance, for example. And they explored how to create lesson plans for different subject areas that could bring in multiple faiths. One example shared was for a math class, where the teacher asked students to create posters on great mathematicians from their ethnic or religious backgrounds, and then hung the posters around the classroom.
Once the student teachers began their teaching semester, they continued to participate in a seminar where they discussed interfaith lesson plans and reflected on what was going well and what was challenging.
After the grant concluded, faculty and staff from the School of Education and the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue continue to work together to offer a series of pedagogical workshops for teacher candidates enrolled in education programs at Nazareth College. They are also exploring collaboration with different school districts in the Greater Rochester area to offer these workshops to teachers already teaching in area schools.