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Interfaith Cooperation Committee Toolkit

Bring together diverse stakeholders to support interfaith cooperation

Establishing and Managing a Campus-Wide Committee

Using this Toolkit 

For campuses looking to deepen their commitment to engaging religious diversity or to take a holistic approach to interfaith efforts, an Interfaith Cooperation Committee (ICC) that engages faculty, administrators, staff, and students can be an effective approach. ICCs (or Multifaith Committees, or Interfaith Advisory Boards, etc.) can anchor an institutional commitment to interfaith cooperation at a university and serve as a means to promote, support, and enrich interfaith initiatives on campus. For many schools, the ICC leads the way in establishing new and innovative co-curricular and curricular programs as well as increasing buy-in for interfaith work across campus.

A campus may establish a committee in order to:

  • Serve as a campus resource when issues or questions around religious diversity occur.
  • Demonstrate institutional commitment to interfaith cooperation on campus.
  • Promote interfaith cooperation on campus through programs, advocacy, student support, curriculum development, and other initiatives.
  • Support campus community members at all levels of an institution (students, staff, faculty, administration, etc.) in developing interfaith awareness and literacy.
  • Enrich the campus community by creating a permanent institutional resource for interfaith initiatives.
  • Ensure cross-campus communication and coordination of interfaith initiatives.

The work of these committees comes in many different forms based on the particular goals or culture of the campus. Dominican University, a Catholic university which prizes its tradition of a liberal arts education, enables its interfaith committee to work with faculty on developing interfaith-focused content for different academic units. At Cornell University, an ICC was established to bring together staff, faculty, and students from across a traditionally decentralized university structure. They were able to share their knowledge with interested colleagues and began to establish a set of best practices for engaging religious diversity on campus.

Both of those schools—with very different ICCs, missions, and structures—established committees that fit the needs of their university in regards to developing and cultivating interfaith cooperation. The process of creating or sustaining such a committee will look different for every school. Use this guide as a part of your process for determining and establishing an ICC on your campus.

This guide will:

  • Outline methods for forming an Interfaith Cooperation Committee on a university campus.
  • Offer different sets of activities and missions for ICCs.
  • Provide examples of mission statements, membership rosters, and committee structures.

Establishing Your Committee

University Support: The first priority of an ICC is to promote interfaith cooperation on a campus and foster a campus climate of pluralism. Establishing commitment from influential university sectors is critical for achieving this change. Gaining public support from your university’s administration makes clear the importance of interfaith cooperation to the institution as a whole. An endorsement or initial announcement about the ICC from the President, Chancellor, Provost, or other high-ranking Academic or Student Affairs administrator will help the committee’s priorities become the university’s priorities. Review your university’s strategic or mission priorities and identify how interfaith cooperation supports those same goals. Building a level of administrative “buy-in” will make an ICC a more effective and credible group throughout the university and can help to advance the committee’s goals simply by showcasing the importance of interfaith cooperation to all levels of the university’s structure.

Takeaways:

  • An ICC can create substantive opportunities for interfaith cooperation on a campus.
  • A public commitment from a university office for the creation of the committee is vital.
  • Look to the Office of the President/Chancellor, Provost’s Office, Vice President of Student Affairs, or other high-ranking offices for support.
  • Clarify how interfaith cooperation ties into the university’s overall strategic and mission priorities. Examine your university’s mission statements, strategic plans, and statements from administrators.

Composition: As a campus-wide committee focused on interfaith issues, an ICC should be reflective of the campus as a whole. The membership of your committee should reflect the offices, departments, and sectors of your university involved in interfaith issues. Think of it as a “committee of stakeholders.” Who are the stakeholders on your campus that impact, are interested in, or need to know about interfaith issues? Identifying those relevant parts of the college or university, and building your individual membership around those needs, can help form a committee that is committed and able to affect change throughout your institution. Although every committee is different, many have representatives from departments such as Student Affairs, Residential Life, Religious Life or spiritual support offices, the general faculty, high-level administrative offices, and select student leaders.

The membership of an ICC often determines the types of decisions made and the implementation of those decisions on campus. In this case, function follows form—who is on the committee influences the actual functioning (and impact) of the committee. You want to have a membership that is representative of the campus while also efficient enough to accomplish the committee’s goals. Along with organizing across the university, it is important to think about how well the committee is representing different religious and non-religious viewpoints. An ICC is not the same as a Chaplain’s Committee or Religious Leaders Council, which often seek equal representation from all religious and spiritual groups on campus, but do give thought as to how the members of the committee reflect or express the diverse range of viewpoints on a campus.

Example Committee Roster:
Representatives from:

  • Office of the Dean of Students
  • Office of the Provost
  • Student Affairs
  • Student Leaders
  • Institutional Research
  • Office of Communications or Marketing
  • Faculty/Staff Professional Development
  • Residence Life
  • Service Learning/Community Engagement
  • International Students
  • Chaplaincy or Religious Life
  • Religious Studies Department
  •  Other Interested Faculty
  • First Year Programming/ Orientation

Takeaways:

  • Members of an ICC should reflect the offices, departments, and sectors of your campus.
  • Explore: Who are the “interfaith stakeholders” on campus? What particular areas of your institution need to be included in this committee?
  • Function follows form. The membership will help determine the actions and results of the committee.
  • It is valuable to create a committee that is reflective of the different religious and non-religious beliefs on campus.

The Role of the Committee Within the University: As you finalize the composition of your group, examine the committee within the university’s committee structure. There is no shortage of committees, councils, or working groups on a typical college campus. Is this interfaith cooperation committee comparable in organization to other committees with a similar reach and ambition? Does the ICC have a natural organizational home within the university? At many private and religiously-affiliated universities, the Religious Life, University Chaplain, or Campus Ministry offices provide the organizational “home base” for the committee. At public or unaffiliated universities, organizational support can range across departments. Some are sponsored by public service centers on campus, Multicultural offices, or the Student Affairs division. The composition of the ICC can also influence its organizational home. For instance, if you have a staff member from the President’s office on the ICC, that office might be a natural base for the committee. This would help maintain high-level attention and support for the ICC.

Dominican University
The Interfaith Cooperation Committee drives and facilitates the development of a Dominican University culture in which interfaith cooperation, understanding, and appreciation are the norm. The ICC works in partnership with the Mission and Ministry Council to ensure that interfaith efforts align with the university’s Strategic Plan and compliment the work of the Diversity Committee. The committee advocates for interfaith policies, and maintains coordination and oversight of strategic interfaith initiatives.

“Interfaith cooperation” describes a community where different individuals or groups respect each other’s distinct religious and philosophical identities, and so work together forming intentional, mutually enriching relationships, creating active partnerships that promote common action for the common good.​

Takeaways:

  • Assess the typical committee structure for your university and how an ICC would fit into that structure.
  • Decide on the best organizational home, or support office, for the ICC. This will depend on the type of university and how your university organizes their campus committees in general.

Mission and Activities

Mission Statement: A mission statement articulates the purpose and goals of the ICC. It distills the core task of the committee for both its internal membership and its external audience. For most committees, it serves as a guiding statement of purpose that sets the course for the activities and decisions of the group. Therefore, it is critical to devote adequate time and attention to the group process of writing the statement. Often the first task of a newly formed ICC is to create a mission statement. An ICC’s membership, charge, and structure all influence the mission statement. And, just like no two committees or campuses are the same, mission statements can vary widely (see sample statements). Some statements are concise and direct: the committee’s function is to do x, y, and z. Some statements carefully define the terms and language of the committee, making sure that everyone who reads it has a shared idea of what ‘interfaith cooperation’ means. Some statements take paragraphs to detail all the activities the committee will do in a school year; other statements are no longer than a sentence or two.

When thinking about the substance of your mission statement, think about how best to describe your committee’s purpose in clear and approachable language. What is the main purpose of the committee? How can the statement clearly state that mission? What are the committee’s goals? The reach and scope of the ICC will both determine and reflect the mission statement the committee designs. As both an articulation of the committee’s mission and an external explanation of the purpose of the group, a mission statement serves as a starting point for the actions of an interfaith committee.

Oberlin College
The Interfaith Faculty and Staff Council provides advice, support, and advocacy to promote religious and philosophical pluralism and interfaith engagement on campus.

Case Western Reserve University
Students who choose to seek out religious life at Case will find a diverse selection of multifaith groups and programs. We accommodate students of all faiths by celebrating unique traditions and promoting fellowship among students.

Takeaways:

  • A mission statement should clearly articulate the purpose and goals of the Interfaith Cooperation Committee.
  • Prioritize the creation of a mission statement when starting a committee. A good mission statement can get all committee members and university constituents on the same page.
  • Mission statements vary in length, description, and depth. Design the right type of mission statement that fits your particular committee’s ultimate purpose.

Setting Goals: The beginning work of an ICC often focuses on goal-setting and identifying campus assets. Setting achievable goals for your committee starts to give substance to the mission and purpose of the group. It also serves as an important accountability measure for the interfaith impact on your campus. These goals should be seen as the concrete steps and outcomes of interfaith cooperation on your campus and will help to provide focus to the committee’s work. An ICC interested primarily in promoting student interfaith awareness and involvement will have different goals than a committee focused on influencing university policies regarding religious diversity.

Deciding on goals will also help you discern where existing interfaith-related assets exist on campus. Identifying campus assets related to interfaith work is crucial for a committee not merely as a reference to have, but as a source of potential allies, funding, outreach, and general support. Assets can be specific people, such as a university provost with a special interest in interfaith cooperation. They can also be whole departments like Student Affairs or a Multicultural office. Funding and access to physical space are also clear tangible assets. Whether asset identification is done in the pre-planning stages, or as an initial activity for the committee, identifying campus assets will strengthen your group by clarifying what support already exists for interfaith work on campus. Be as specific as possible when identifying assets. Having an asset pool to draw from makes your work more relevant to the parts of the university you hope to impact.

Takeaways:

  • The stated mission of your group should directly inform committee goals.
  • Goals can be the progress markers for the committee’s work.
  • Think of ways to utilize an asset mapping process to help achieve your goals.
  • Assets should be valuable people, groups, departments, and areas of campus that can serve as resources for the promotion of interfaith cooperation.

Activities: After the work of creating and organizing a committee, the next question is often: “now what?” Deciding on what the tangible work of the committee looks like on an ongoing basis will help determine the capabilities of an ICC. Like with a mission statement, the activities of an ICC will look different from one committee to the next. Use your mission statement as the start of your decision-making process in regards to which tasks, initiatives, and activities your committee addresses. If your mission is to effectively promote student interfaith engagement, then your activities will look different then if your mission is to advise your university administration on interfaith literacy issues. As the sample list details, the range of activities an ICC can take on vary greatly

Many ICCs structure their committee to achieve a particular goal. For instance, Oberlin College’s Interfaith Faculty and Staff Council focuses on internal (within the university administration) advising to their Spiritual Life office and external (within the larger campus and local community) advocacy of interfaith issues. They formed two sub-committees, Advising and Advocacy. Members who sat on the Advising sub-committee were often administrators or student affairs professionals, while members who worked in Advocacy were often affiliated chaplains, civic engagement staff, and other “outward-facing” university staff and faculty. Other ICCs are even more specific in their activity groups. Dominican University formed an ICC with significant administrative support. Their committee addressed a number of issues, and their structure reflected that approach. That ICC has four sub-groups addressing programming, community partnerships, interfaith assessment, and curriculum development. Having secured their university’s support and an initial cohort of members with a strong commitment to interfaith engagement, they let their broad interests in interfaith work dictate their committee structure.

Sample List of Activities:

  • Interfaith Events and Programming (educational programs, scheduling speakers, organizing interfaith panels, etc.)
  • Curriculum Development
  • Institutional Policy Advising
  • Assessment of Religious Life on Campus
  • Interfaith Advocacy
  • Coordinate Student Interfaith Activity

Takeaways:

  • Decide which activities your committee is most capable of taking on—what is the best set of activities to promote interfaith cooperation on campus?
  • Review your mission, membership, university support, and assets when deciding on your ICC’s activities.
  • The functions of an ICC often determine the form of the group. Consider the best way to shape your committee to take advantage of your activity focus.
  • The depth, range, and focus of your committee’s work can help you determine the best structure of the committee.

Forming and maintaining an ICC is a process. This document reflects the experience, wisdom, mistakes, and successes of many universities and colleges who are dedicated to fostering interfaith cooperation on their campus. As your own process develops, please feel free to utilize IFYC as a resource and contact us with any questions or concerns. Email info@ifyc.org to be in touch.