Universities across the intermountain west are getting involved in interfaith discussions.
Students from BYU, UVU, Idaho State University, USU and Weber, among others attended the USU Intermountain West Interfaith Leadership Lab in April.
“Interfaith describes an interaction between people of different religions or faith traditions,” according to the United Religions Initiative website. “It is about understanding our significant differences, but recognizing our similarities, and working together for peace, justice and healing in our world.”
Carr Harkrader is a campus engagement associate for Interfaith Youth Core, an organization whose goal is to create respect between people of different religious and non-religious people.
“Interfaith is all about digging in the soil of religious liberty,” Carr said.
Carr said people will work better with others when they find common values.
“You really can’t get to know somebody until you know what they believe,” said Kelli Hill, a student at USU-Uintah Basin who attended the interfaith leadership lab.
BYU’s interfaith club, SHARE, has not put on an event since 2014. But just a city over, UVU has an active interfaith student council and regularly puts on interfaith events. And just a state over, Idaho State University created a diversity committee to ease religious tensions in the community.
Elisabeth Baird attended the leadership lab along with 11 other BYU students.
She said it was helpful for her to see how interfaith could be implemented on a university campus.
“There’s a lot more we could do to involve the interfaith community here,” Baird said.
BYU administration and religious education are involved in interfaith outreach, but Baird said the interfaith leadership lab made her realize she wants to bring the interfaith conversation “down to the student level.”
Utah Valley University has a building on campus called the Reflection Center, built to house “inclusion and interfaith engagement,” according to the UVU website, where students can pray, meditate, attend events, learn about interfaith and participate in Interfaith Student Council meetings.
The council has planned events such as “speed faithing,” an LGBT and faith panel, faith forums with local religious leaders and excursions to places of worship in the community.
“(Interfaith) gives us the skills — the very practical skills we need — to make things happen the way we want and then also feel part of a community of students that’s doing something we feel is very positive,” said Gabriel Toscano, member of the UVU Interfaith Student Council.
Idaho State University Interfaith
The Associated Students of Idaho State University created a diversity committee last year to help their community gain understanding about the Middle Eastern students, according to Dez Ruiz, vice president of Associated Students of Idaho State University.
“We put a mosque in, and that threw off our whole community,” said Jessica Sargent, president of Associated Students of Idaho State University. “They kind of freaked out a little bit.”
Sargent hopes the diversity director, who is a city member on the diversity committee, will help coordinate events to increase interfaith discussion and awareness.
The diversity committee put on two religious festivals last year, Holi and Diwali.
“We were trying to make sure those students knew we were happy that they were there,” Sargent said. “Regardless of what the community did, we were happy, and we want them to continue to stay at our university.”