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Interfaith Communities in Residence Life

Students’ experiences in residence life are often some of the most transformative parts of their time in college. Roommates and hall mates form strong bonds through the shared experience of communal living in college. Living in close quarters with those of different faiths can teach students first-hand about different beliefs and values, dietary practices, and ways of practicing and worshipping. With this in mind, professionals at a number of colleges and universities have ventured into the creation of interfaith living communities. Many of these communities incorporate intentional dialogue and collaborative projects between residents, to solidify community and promote interfaith cooperation across campus. This resource provides examples of interfaith communities (both on campus and in external campus affiliated housing) and gives recommendations for incorporating interfaith into residence life on your own campus.

 

Why Res Life?

Private and public institutions alike are increasingly engaging interfaith topics, each within the appropriate context for their institution. Educators are prioritizing spiritual development and interfaith engagement as part of the holistic development of responsible and resilient members of society. Interfaith residence life programs provide a casual environment for students to engage with one another around the big questions of life and consider how their beliefs interact with those of others. Interfaith relationships built through residence life programs help to build the movement of interfaith cooperation, and to strengthen religiously diverse communities.

Interfaith in Residence Life: Campus Examples

Colgate University, Hamilton, NY Interfaith House
The Interfaith House at Colgate University was established in 2013 with the goal to build a culture of interfaith dialogue across Colgate’s campus. Colgate offers ‘interest houses’ to its students, and a group of six student leaders of different religious and secular identities advocated for one of the houses to be allocated as an interfaith house. Currently, thirty students identifying as Christian, Jewish, atheist, Muslims, and Buddhists reside in the house. Residents work with the Office of the Chaplains and the Office of Residential Life to facilitate discussions and plan interfaith events.

In addition to regular religious holiday celebrations, residents also plan social events and philanthropic projects like the annual Crop Walk, as well as participate in regular dialogues open to faculty and students. Interfaith House residents also organize a monthly children’s program at the Colgate University Bookstore.

Rollins College, Winter Park, FL
Interfaith Floor The Interfaith Advisory Council, comprised of faculty and staff at Rollins College, surveyed around 200 students concerning their perception of religious climate on campus. From the information gathered, the IAC determined that an interfaith space on campus would foster a safe and inclusive environment for different religious, spiritual, and secular identities. The IAC then worked to establish the Interfaith Hall, an Interfaith Living Learning Community (LLC) on campus. The Interfaith Hall is a student-run initiative that encourages spiritual exploration and intentional collaboration on topics of shared concern.

Residents of the LLC also founded the Interfaith Club in 2010, which invites students from the broader campus to participate in events and dialogues hosted by Interfaith Hall residents.

University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
The Muslim and SChalom (Jewish) Floor at the University of Southern California is an interfaith community within the Parkside Apartments residence on USC’s campus. The Office of Residential Education runs the floor, with support from the Office of Religious Life and two Residence Advisors. The floor is open to students of every year, background, and major. The floor originated when two communities - one for Jewish students, the other for Muslim - were assigned to the same floor. From there, intentional programming and engagement fostered the development of an interfaith community, “to provide a space with Muslim and Jewish can truly live their faith and are encouraged to reach out, explore, and discuss the faiths of others.”

The Muslim/Jewish Floor is a substance-free floor and is designed apartment-style, allowing students to keep Kosher and Halal, and includes appropriate spaces for daily prayers. In addition to an interfaith-friendly space, members of the two communities regularly come together for discussions and collaborate in event programming.

Getting Started

Assess Your Campus's Climate:
If your institution is just getting its interfaith efforts up and running, a smaller community on a floor of a residence hall would be more appropriate than a large interfaith house. Additionally, any data you can point to which indicates a need for ‘safe spaces’ for different religious identities can help you advocate for the creation of an interfaith community (just make sure the community goes beyond tolerance to active engagement between those of different religious and nonreligious identities). Consider how long the process typically takes to establish living learning communities on your campus to determine whether you will need a long- or short-term timeline for implementation.

Identify Interested Students:
You can help make the case for an interfaith community if there are a healthy number of students interested in residing in the hall. Talk to the advisors of other living learning communities for advice on recruiting residents. Start with communities that focus on identity, diversity, and/or service. In addition, reaching out to the Office of Religious Life on campus or to professors teaching relevant courses could help you find students. Other ideas include checking with any active interfaith organizations on campus and with members of religious and intentionally secular organizations. Conduct interest meetings to gauge student interest and brainstorm structure and activities for the community. Once you’ve identified a group of interested students, make sure you create opportunities for leadership: bring them into the visioning process for your community and have a broad group of students involved in submitting the application for the space.

Talk to the Decision Makers:
If your institution already has a Living Learning Community program or “interest community” initiative, it makes sense to start there. Speak with Residence Life staff about procedures for establishing living learning communities. You can also speak to the advisors of other LLCs to learn more about their programs and requirements.

Establish Your Community:
It goes without saying than an interfaith learning community will need to be “interfaith friendly” and accommodating to the different religious practices of residents. Examples of this include restricting alcohol on the floor, providing prayer spaces, separating women and men into different areas, providing special kitchen areas for Kosher and Halal cooking, etc.

Encourage Community Agreements:
Once the interfaith community forms and residents move in, consider creating community agreements to establish a respectful environment for all. Example community agreements include “speak for yourself, not for everyone of your religion or secular philosophy”; “ask questions if you don’t understand”; “assume good intentions”; and “respect all perspectives” (just to name a few).

Choose a Project:
The communities mentioned above all include intentional programming and collaboration. During initial floor/hall meetings, talk to residents about issues of common concern – poverty, environmental conservation, education, etc. – that the community can work together to address. Open occasional meetings to the broader campus community, to spread a greater understanding of interfaith cooperation.

Resources

IFYC is here to provide you with guidance, resources and contacts at other campuses doing similar work – email info@ifyc.org to connect with one of our staff. We are always interested to hear more about the innovative approaches to interfaith happening in higher education, including creative Residence Life programs.