Building Bridges

By: Christina Ferrari

In my undergrad years, so much of my experience was grounded in my spiritual growth and was spent collaborating with peers of different religious and philosophical belief systems. I helped create a new student organization, DePaul Interfaith, led weekly dialogues, planned retreats, and brought students, faculty, and staff together to engage in religious and spiritual diversity issues. When I graduated in June that seemed like the end of the interfaith road. I worried I would have to abandon this work along with my days of being a Blue Demon.

Fortunately, I soon discovered three wonderful student affairs professionals who shared my love of religious pluralism and together we submitted a proposal to NASPA’s Annual Conference to ensure interfaith cooperation and spiritual diversity were a priority in the higher education community. The first wonder woman I met was Katie; she works with the Interfaith Youth Core, a nonprofit that helps campuses across the country discover ways to implement interfaith initiatives. Next, at Portland State University there’s Rachel, a Registered Student Organization Advisor, who took it upon herself to develop an Interfaith Leadership Team where students from diverse belief systems do service projects and reflect on faith related topics. Finally, Mel, an Assistant Dean of Students from Washington State University, not only advocates for students and manages departments, but she also spends her time forming partnerships with places of worship to raise awareness on the misconceptions and myths of religious institutions. Each of these women help tell a different story about religion than the one we so often hear on the news. Instead of conflict, bigotry, and religious extremism, they help campuses write stories of respect, peace, and of genuine concern for others.

We shared many phone conversations and notes on Google docs to build virtual bridges between our work and highlight the common themes that form our practices. It was an honor to collaborate with each of these ladies and to see that there is a way to integrate your interests and passions with the demands of the field. I now see that regardless of what functional area I may work in or title I might hold, if I want to continue helping students build bridges of interfaith cooperation I can! And, more importantly, that I should. Interfaith work is work that we must do as student affairs professionals. The students that come to our campuses are a part of the most religiously diverse generation our country has ever seen. Our students are having conversations about the meaning of life, the afterlife, and other spiritually centered conversations whether or not we are there to facilitate them. 

College is a golden opportunity to explore the deepest parts of ourselves, what we value, and what we believe. As I mentioned in the presentation last week, to really know our students we must understand what motivates them, what moves them to act or make decisions, and where that stems from. If you are passionate about an issue and wonder if it’s worth being pursued in graduate school or maybe even shared with colleagues in a presentation, I challenge you to take a leap of faith (in whatever source that faith may stem from) and go for it. Just because you’re no longer in college doesn’t mean you cannot continue to do the work that made your college experience so valuable. After all, there was something that happened during that time which made you decide to dedicate your life to this field, right?

Student Affairs - the First Years

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