Joe Pritchett, Area Coordinator for Residence Life and Housing, Nona Holy, Campus Pastor with Lumos Presbyterian Ministry, and Nicole Wasilus, Assistant Director at UD Hillel represented the University of Delaware at the 6th annual President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.
Hosted at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C., the conference was attended by White House government officials, community organizers, religious leaders, University staff and students from campuses across the country and the world.
The conference was led by the U.S. Department of Education Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships in partnership with the White House and the Corporation for National and Community Service.
As shared on the U.S. Department of Education website, “the Campus Challenge Gathering offers an opportunity for students, staff, and administrators to share experiences, learn from experts, and meet Obama Administration officials who share a commitment to community service with an interfaith engagement component.”
“An important part of the program is celebrating the work happening on campuses across the country to provide students with opportunities to develop lifelong skills in interfaith cooperation and a commitment to community service.”
Of the many impressive plenary speakers who spoke at the gathering was Tina Tchen, Chief of Staff in the Office of the First Lady, who spoke about the Let Girls Learn initiative which promotes access to education for girls around the globe. Dalia Mogahed, the Director of Research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, also shared an important presentation on why Islamophobia is a threat to every American citizen and how we can unite under the realm of service.
Joe Pritchett thought much could be learned from the diverse group of leaders who spoke at the conference, saying, “It was really wonderful to hear so many people involved in public service at the highest levels express how important it is that we cultivate environments on campus that bring people from diverse worldviews together.”
“I really believe that if are going to take diversity seriously on this campus, we must think about how we are supporting the worldview diversity on campus and most importantly capitalizing on the positive benefits of interfaith cooperation when we bring folks together across those differences in ways that allow them to learn from one another and work together on a common goal”, said Pritchett.
In a session entitled Institutional Integration of Interfaith Initiatives: Accomplishments, Practices, and Goals, the University of Delaware attendees presented on how they’ve utilized cross-campus connections to institutionalize interfaith work around service. Alongside Northern Illinois University and Lebanon Valley College, the University of Delaware shared successful practices and resources that support institutional commitment and sustainable interfaith engagement.
The presentation highlighted Serving Better Together, the month-long winter term initiative supported by UNIDEL, noting three core elements of the experience: Service, Skill-building, and experiencing and learning about other faith traditions. Nona Holy spoke in the presentation about how so much of the success of Serving Better Together and the other interfaith initiatives on campus grew from the relationships built between on campus religious leaders, University staff and administration.
“I’ve appreciated the spirit of cooperation and trust that I’ve found on the campus. I think it not only benefits students in terms of the programming and opportunities we’re able to provide working together. It is also modeling for the students the very openness and mutual respect we hope they will come to value”, said Holy.
The session also highlighted the immersive experience Residence Life and Housing’s Alternative Break interfaith trip offers for students to build relationships with diverse peers around service as well as the Ask Big Questions fellowship, which brings together students of varying backgrounds and viewpoints and provides them with a space to engage in meaningful, respectful and productive civil discourse.
Nicole Wasilus spoke about the importance of supporting interfaith initiatives at UD: “It will take significant institutional commitment to meet the growing needs of students as UD becomes a more global University.” She adds, “It was exciting to be able to represent UD at an international conference and learn from other professionals and students committed to service and interfaith engagement so we can better serve UD students”.
Students interested in being engaged in interfaith efforts on campus can apply to Illumine (https://udelpcm.org/programs/illumine) or get involved in Serving Better Together (www.udel.edu/reslife) during winter session. Feel free to also contact Nicole Wasilus (firstname.lastname@example.org), Joe Pritchett (email@example.com) or Nona Holy (firstname.lastname@example.org).
From left to right: Nicole Wasilus, Nona Holy & Joe Pritchett