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GV Now

Student cohort strengthens interfaith conversations on college campuses

  • Sydney Watson, Shelby Bruseloff and Derek Zuvie

Posted on October 17, 2018

A collaborative internship program between five local colleges, including Grand Valley, is providing students with opportunities to develop their interfaith leadership skills and generate interfaith conversations on their own campuses.

The cohort was established in 2015 after the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley was awarded a $50,000 grant from the Grand Rapids Community Foundation. The participating schools currently include Grand Valley, Hope College, Calvin College, Aquinas College and Kuyper College.

Each year, the group of interns meets monthly to discuss interfaith topics and issues happening on each of the various campuses. The students then engage in conversations to offer solutions to issues and effective ways to engage students in interfaith conversations.

In addition to taking those ideas and creating interfaith programming on each campus, the group also serves on the planning committee for the annual Made in Michigan Interfaith Lab — an interfaith leadership conference hosted each fall at Grand Valley.

Kevin McIntosh, Campus Interfaith Resources coordinator and supervisor for the interfaith internship program, said his hope for the program is to increase the number of interfaith conversations happening on college campuses, and to channel those conversations in positive ways around Grand Valley.

“We get new ideas from the other schools and we get to broadcast the great things that Grand Valley is doing around interfaith,” said McIntosh. “Whether you’re at Grand Valley, Calvin, Hope, Aquinas or Kuyper, you’re able to be in conversations with your neighbors who might worship differently than you. The issues discussed in the group may be different, but they probably have some similarities on these different campuses."

This year’s group of six interns includes Ben Scott-Brandt, a senior majoring in liberal studies at Grand Valley who said he hopes to facilitate dialogues that challenge assumptions about religious identities.

“What this internship provides is a nitty-gritty look at the bridges and barriers to interfaith understanding that students bring with them as they begin college and enter campus life,” said Scott-Brandt. “Grand Valley can play a major role in promoting a certain kind of conversation around religion, one that values pluralism and hearing from everyone at the table. If GVSU can play that role in West Michigan, it can affect so much of how our community listens to marginalized voices, how we make decisions together, and how we manage the tensions between different perspectives and ideologies.”

Scott-Brandt said this year his priority projects are planning Campus Interfaith Resources’ Sacred Site Visits and Lived Conversations. The former provides opportunities for students, faculty and staff to visit various houses of worship in the Grand Rapids area, and the latter is a series of monthly conversations that explore how the faith or non-faith identities of individuals interact with the broader world.

“Personally, I’m drawn to the site visits because they are so hands-on,” said Scott-Brandt. “Sometimes a lecture floats by and you’re not engaged enough to remember it viscerally, but entering another community’s sacred space involves a lot of who we are. It’s a holistic learning experience.”

Sydney Watson, a senior majoring in public and nonprofit administration, served as Grand Valley’s interfaith intern from August 2016 through May of this year. She said she enjoyed the internship because the conversations she helped initiate and facilitate on campus will extend beyond Grand Valley.

“The need for interfaith will not go away after students leave college, so we are helping them achieve the skills, language and understanding they need to continue this interfaith work,” said Watson, from Grand Haven. “These interns are educating students about being a pluralistic society, which in turn helps create a socially just community.”

For more information about the internship program, visit the Kaufman Interfaith Institute website.