Interfaith Cooperation is the Future of Higher Ed

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

What will happen the day after the day after?  

That’s not a misprint. That’s the question that everybody who is not putting 150 percent of their energy into dealing with the many emergencies of the moment might want to spend a little time with.  

I think the one thing that can safely be said about most campuses is that, after the crisis, they will be more of a cohesive whole rather than the sum of sometimes dissonant parts. The closest reference point for what most campuses are experiencing now is what happened to Tulane University during Katrina, which I wrote about recently.

The hurricane destroyed New Orleans and threatened the very existence of Tulane. One of the things that President Scott Cowen and his leadership team decided to do was put an end to students applying to different Tulane schools for admission, and instead centralize admissions. This was not principally an administrative decision implemented to maximize efficiencies. Rather, it was a spirit-oriented decision meant to create wholeness. It communicated: We are one Tulane. We share a common spirit and a common mission. Every procedure we have will affirm that central purpose. 

Many colleges are going to change radically in the next couple of years. If your typical approach is to find ways to protect your turf, circumstances will likely require a fundamental change.  

Not only is that attitude spiritually wrong, it is strategically unwise. There is no use in trying to rearrange the chairs on your part of the deck if the whole ship is going to sink. And make no mistake, the waters are rising more rapidly than anybody could have predicted even three months ago.  

Much better to say, “If this ship sinks, I’m going to be part of building a new one that floats and work to bring the whole community on board that vessel.” Better yet, if this is the age of air travel, perhaps this is the time to be thinking about a different craft altogether. Instead of a new ship, maybe you want to be designing a plane and learning how to fly. (That’s essentially what Paul LeBlanc did at Southern New Hampshire University after the 2008 financial crisis.)

Whether it’s a new ship or a plane, the old “protect my turf” ways fall short of taking on the new challenges we all face in the Covid-19 moment. I’m hoping this is a moment in which interfaith and diversity work can elevate in significance and spread in reach. If you lead one of these programs on a campus, think about drafting a memo (wait until this emergency is over to send it!) to your college’s executive team that emphasizes just how vital interfaith and diversity work are to the mission of the whole campus. You don’t simply tend to the needs of a small group of enthusiastic students (important as that might be), you are integral to helping the campus accomplish its highest mission in virtually all phases of its work:  

  • You work with the people in admissions to reach out to new groups of prospective students, everywhere from Islamic schools to Evangelical homeschooling programs;   
  • You run trainings for staff and faculty on campus because no one is born with the skills to engage positively with diversity, people have to learn and practice them;  
  • You design and teach General Education courses, because being educated in and comfortable with diversity issues is part of the definition of being an educated person;  
  • You partner with pre-professional programs like Nursing and Business and Elementary Education because amongst the most important things that employers seek are applicants with the skills to cooperate across difference;  
  • You work with the Career Office because it’s not enough to simply have diversity education in coursework, students need to be adept at weaving their practical knowledge of cooperating across difference into their job interviews;  
  • You help students find meaning and explore their identities, and do it in a way that builds positive community on campus, helping students graduate on time and positioning them advantageously in the job market.  

The diverse doctors and nurses and scientists and public health officials that are leading us through the Covid-19 crisis - the ones who are cooperating across lines of difference and serving the highest ideals at great sacrifice to themselves – these individuals are the highest ideal for your future graduates. And so are the ones who will invent the drugs, design the systems and advocate for the political change that will help prevent (or at least contain) the next inevitable pandemic, whenever it comes.    

As college campuses necessarily evolve to address the Covid-19 challenge, graduating interfaith leaders should still be a top priority.  

#Interfaith is a self-paced, online learning opportunity designed to equip a new generation of leaders with the awareness and skills to promote interfaith cooperation online. The curriculum is free to Interfaith America readers; please use the scholarship code #Interfaith100. #Interfaith is presented by IFYC in collaboration with ReligionAndPublicLife.org.

 

more from IFYC

A new course on interfaith leadership will help participants rethink how they behave online.
At its core, secularism is an approach to governance, writes Jacques Berlinerblau in his new book ‘Secularism: The Basics.’ And critically, it is one many religious people, not just atheists and agnostics, support.
Join IFYC on February 7 at 10 AM CT for an important conversation with Black thought-leaders, activists, and organizers engaged in on-the-ground efforts to destigmatize HIV and eradicate the virus.
The metaverse has dramatic implications that should make all of us sit up, lean in, and claim our role in shaping the worlds within the world that is being created.  
A chance encounter with an army chaplain put Colonel Khallid Shabazz's military career on a different path.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, who survived a hostage-taking at his synagogue last Saturday, gave the closing remarks at an online White House briefing Friday, with an impassioned plea for civility.
Rather than focusing on canonical doctrines, a workshop trains educators to teach “lived religion” -- all the creative things that people do with their traditions.
The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, described as 'the second most famous Buddhist in the world, after the Dalai Lama,' by one expert, founded a worldwide network of monastic centers. He once said: "My life is my teaching. My life is my message.”
Many content creators use their platforms to build community beyond their brick-and-mortar congregations, to dispel myths, break stereotypes and invite people from diverse faiths to get a glimpse into their lives.
IFYC's innovative online learning experience, #Interfaith: Engaging Religious Diversity Online, offers lessons on how to approach others online in a way that leads to building bridges.
Lessons from Thich Nhat Hanh, the person who nominated Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize and encouraged King to speak out against the war in Vietnam.
What Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh taught me about the power of mindful breathing through art.
A scholar of democratic virtues explains why Dominican monk Thomas Aquinas’ thoughts on hope are relevant today.
From covering spirituality in Silicon Valley to writing an online newsletter about her own journey to Judaism, reporter Nellie Bowles keeps finding innovative ways to reflect on religion and technology.
Six ways religious and spiritual leaders can help the internet serve their communities right now.
At the request of his editors at Religion News Service, Omar Suleiman writes about waiting with hostages’ families.
Regardless of what happens on Capitol Hill, the PNBC leaders said they plan to lobby Congress in March and register voters weekly in their congregations and communities.
King’s exasperation at self-satisfied white Christians holds up a mirror that is still painfully accurate today.
A day before the U.S. Senate was expected to take up significant legislation on voting rights that is looking likely to fail, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s eldest son condemned federal lawmakers over their inaction.
The congregation’s rabbi, Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, is particularly well connected to the larger interfaith community and on good terms with many Muslim leaders.
For Martin Luther King Day, an interfaith panel reflects on the sacredness of the vote and the legacy of Reverend King.

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.