West Michigan has a rich history of engagement in interfaith dialogue, largely because of the organizations Sylvia Kaufman, a respected community leader, has founded. Sylvia initiated the first community dialogue on interfaith issues through the former West Shore Committee for Jewish/Christian Dialogue in 1989. Since that time, hundreds of premier scholars, clergy, citizens, and students from the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim faiths have come together every three years for a conference, now known as the Triennial Interfaith Dialogue.
In 2001, Sylvia brought together a group of six academic institutions and formed the West Michigan Academic Consortium. Each year, the consortium plans a program with a single speaker, which provides continuity between the triennial Dialogues. In honor of Sylvia Kaufman's 20-plus years of dedication to promoting understanding among faiths, the Kaufman Interfaith Institute was created at Grand Valley State University in the summer of 2007. GVSU is providing leadership and administrative services for the institute. As of 2011, the West Michigan Academic Consortium consists of nine colleges and universities.
"We've come so far, and yet there's so much still possible. It's gratifying to know that this important work will be carried on through Grand Valley and the Interfaith Institute." -Sylvia Kaufman
"The Kaufman Interfaith Institute is an extension of our mission to embrace diversity as a way of understanding our world, promoting the voices and experiences of all, and incorporating them into our learning environment." -Thomas J. Haas, president, Grand Valley State University