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Moving Interfaith Programs to Online Spaces

Covid-19 has forced higher education institutions to rethink pedagogical practices in curricular and co-curricular spaces. From all around the United States, educators are checking-in on their communities, creating intentional points of connection and providing support and care. This is a live (and growing) list of how campuses are adapting in this moment to maintain and strengthen relationships; continue to empower students to learn; and use creativity to overcome the challenges of time and distance.  

 

Baylor University (Waco, TX) 

At Baylor University (Waco, TX), Sharyl Loeung, Coordinator for Outreach and Inclusion, understands students’ needs for emotional support and affirmative messages. Along with inviting alumni of Baylor’s campus interfaith group to provide encouragement and inspiration on one of Baylor’s Better Together BU video calls, Sharyl has been individually reaching out to students to check-in. She noted that, when in large groups, students have generally answered questions about their wellness by stating that they are OK, in good health, and grateful. While that may be true, Sharyl sensed that students were being needlessly brave in refusing to admit their disappointment, anger, and frustration at the sudden changes they were encountering. By reaching out individually and encouraging students to communicate with one another more informally, Sharyl is helping her students recognize their own feelings, moving beyond interfaith dialogue about traditions and practices toward interfaith dialogue about meaning making and grieving. 

 

Calvin University (Grand Rapids, MI) 

Dr. Pennylyn Dykstra-Pruim, Associate Dean for Diversity & Inclusion at Calvin University (Grand Rapids, MI), and her colleagues had planned a unit on scriptural reasoning for April. While digital dialogue is different than meeting in real life, she took the opportunity to invite a colleague of hers from the Sultanate of Oman to join her students since they were all meeting via Zoom. Thus, being forced into a new media created an opportunity she hadn’t considered previously. 

 

Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) 

Jonny Cagwin, Coordinator of Religious Life Programs, from Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, PA) expressed a challenge to online learning because when students returned home, they were now located across the globe in drastically different time zones. Now, Jonny is inviting students to share stories asynchronously from their new communities and realities, reminding them that these shifting contexts can enrich the interfaith dialogue rather than hinder it.  

 

Grand Valley State University (Allendale, MI) 

Through the Campus Interfaith Resources liaisons program, Kevin McIntosh is utilizing games to help students remain connected, laugh and cope through the ever-changing dynamics of the Covid-19. He transitioned his interfaith 101 sessions online to support faculty and staff build on their interfaith competencies. He offered card games and others found here. Staying In? Try your hand at some of these games that are helping Grand Valley State foster a sense of community online for their students, creating a fun and interactive venue to discuss current realities and worldview influences. Connect with Kevin McIntosh, Coordinator, Campus Interfaith Resources (mcintkev@gvsu.edu) with any questions. 

 

Gustavus Adolphus (St. Peter, MN) 

Marian Broida, Interfaith Program Coordinator and Visiting Assistant Professor at Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN), joined the conversation in hopes of learning about exciting ways to engage the Multifaith Leadership Council from afar. Having already encouraged councilmembers to create an Instagram page for their group, the conversation inspired Marian to ask the council to edit and broadcast Gustavus’ existing interfaith resources. As Marian discerned, students encountering more down-time than usual can build their interfaith media skills through resource curation, social media promotion, and writing. 

 

Indiana Tech (Fort Wayne, IN) 

Beth Carlin, Faith Services Coordinator at Indiana Tech (Fort Wayne, IN), has shifted her non-dialogue-based program offerings, such as meditation and yoga, to online formats.  

 

Northeastern University (Boston, MA) 

Soo Laski, Assistant Director, Center for Spirituality, Dialogue, and Service at Northeastern University (Boston, MA) moved student interfaith dinner dialogues to Zoom. For Soo, Zoom’s breakout rooms were an essential tool to maintain the dinner dialogue’s usual large and small-group discussions. She expressed her joy that participants were willing to participate in online programming, especially for their end-of-year interfaith meeting that commemorated all the students and groups who had contributed to Northeastern’s interfaith efforts throughout the year. Northeastern’s recorded mindfulness YouTube sessions are available online for public access, which allows students and others to engage with them at their own pace.  

 

St. Edward’s University (Austin, TX) 

James Puglisi, Associate Director of Campus Ministry at St. Edward’s University (Austin, TX), is harnessing the power of social media, in his case to uplift positive interfaith messaging during what is certainly a difficult time for students. He is asking former student leaders of St. Edward’s Hillel and Muslim Student Association to create short videos of encouragement to be shared on the St. Edward’s Campus Ministry, Hillel, and MSA Facebook pages. 

 

Temple University (Philadelphia, PA) 

Chris Carey, Senior Associate Dean of Students at Temple University (Philadelphia, PA), was initially stressed by the lack of definitive answers for his students’ ever-evolving questions in the early stages of Covid-19. Then, he realized his students were not looking for one, perfect solution, but for effort, communication, and a willingness to collaborate. He humbly accepted that his role was no longer to know, but to try.  

 

Tufts University (Middlesex County, MA) 

At Tufts University (Middlesex County, MA), Shelby CarpenterProgram Coordinator, has focused on the overarching goals of their interfaith work and is adapting program plans as needed. She and her team have had a goal of creating a cohort of interfaith leaders who see themselves as representatives of their communities and other worldviews as wellTo adjust, they shifted their weekly meetings to Zoom and invited their student leaders to help shape some of their strategic planning for next yearSome student leader are assisting in writing the grant’s final report to provide them experience with this critical component of any grant process. 

 

University of North Florida (Jacksonville, FL) 

The UNF Interfaith Center has sprung more fully into digital life as Covid-19 shut down campus and dispersed students, staff and faculty across Florida and the country. Some events continued as planned in the virtual space of Zoom, as with the Interfaith text study, “Chew On This: Religion-Less Inspiration in Difficult Time,” with student and staff presenters from Agnostic and Pagan perspectives. The Better Together Student Leadership Team has continued with weekly meetings via videoconference, with students sharing encouragement and planning future online events and social media engagement. In the coming weeks, Better Together students will host Instagram  takeovers for Passover, Easter and Ramadan. Finally, Interfaith Center staff began working with staff from other universities to plan coast-to-coast opportunities to engage in spirituality and worldview programming. If you are looking for other programming ideas, take a look at this month’s calendar,  https://www.unf.edu/ddi/Events/. Connect with Matt Hartley, Associate Director, Interfaith, Department of Diversity Initiatives (m.hartley@unf.edu) with any questions. 

 

University of Northern Colorado (Greeley, CO) 

The Interfaith Engagement Committee, co-led by Drs. Carroll and Ortis, will be continuing their research to determine the interfaith programming and initiatives needs by conducting focus groups. Additionally, they will be hosting two informal virtual connections to provide an opportunity for faculty, staff and students to explore their faith, spiritual and secular identities in a moderated space. Connect with Talia Carroll, Director, Marcus Garvey Cultural Center (Talia.Carroll@unco.edu) or Liane Ortis, Associate Director, Office of Student Life (Liane.Ortis@unco.edu) with any questions. 

 

University of Southern California (Los Angeles, CA) 

The Office of Religious and Spiritual Life transitioned quickly onto an online space. Using Canva, their programs have continued to provide spaces for students to learn and connect. Each program, such as Bible study, links directly to Zoom meetings, making it easier to connect and be on time. Other links connect you directly to staff as well as provide you the option to make an appointment for spiritual care. Students can also request a Coffee E-Card through the Office of Religious & Spiritual Life to purchase coffee beans, teas and cocoa to brew at home for an upcoming “cocoa and interfaith conversation” meet ups. Connect with Vanessa Gomez Brake, Associate Dean, Office of Religious & Spiritual Life (vanessagb@usc.edu) with any questions. 

 

Utah Valley University (Orem, UT) 

Though this has been a difficult time for the Interfaith Student Council at Utah Valley University they are remaining hopeful and connected through Microsoft Office Teams. The council is also utilizing their Facebook and Instagram accounts to share stories of inspiration and the values they are admiring in others as they are coping with their circumstances. The Reflection Center, Center for the Study of Ethics is continuing their Cocoa, Coffee, Convo program to discuss virtues and ethics through Google Hangouts and providing mindfulness sessions on Zoom. Student employees are maintaining their employment with regular staff meetings and work plans full of interfaith webinars, readings, podcasts and videos. In-person Foundations of Inclusion Interreligious, Interfaith, and Worldview workshops were suspended, but they are exploring the opportunity to move those workshops online likely using Microsoft Teams as the platform. Connect with Ellie Thompson, Reflection Center Coordinator (EllieT@uvu.edu) with any questions.  

 

Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, VA) 

At Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, VA), Najla Mouchrek serves as the Program Director for Interfaith Leadership and Holistic Development. She saw self-isolation as a threat to the momentum she and her students had built. So, she created space on Zoom for everyone to connect, and to her delight participation increased with the most engaging call focused on “What is a value or idea from your worldview that helps you cope?” Students shared passages from the Qur’an and Bible, and atheist students pointed out cycles of order and chaos as essential to keeping themselves centered in this time. Consult the website and connect with Dr. Najla Mouchrek, Program Director for Interfaith Leadership and Holistic Development (najlamk@vt.edu) with any questions.

If you are looking for a way to become an interfaith leader, work for racial equity and build bridges, please check out our free curriculum "We Are Each Other's" and start your interfaith leadership today

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.