I was fortunate to attend the White House’s first conference on “Advancing Interfaith and Community Service on College and University Campuses” on June 7. The event brought together more than 120 experts in religious literacy and interfaith cooperation in higher education, as well as those working towards increased cooperation between faith-based organizations and governmental agencies. The purpose of the gathering was to advance President Obama’s goal of expanding community service opportunities for interfaith cooperation on more than 500 college and university campuses by the end of 2012. Fr. Sundborg and I were both invited at the request of the co-sponsor, Interfaith Youth Core (Chicago), but because it was held the week of Commencement, Fr. Sundborg was unfortunately unable to attend.
|Erin Beary Andersen meets Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.|
The event was hosted by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, along with the White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, which are directed by Joshua DuBois and Sonal Shah, respectively. Some of the other speakers were Martha Kanter, undersecretary for higher education, Eboo Patel, executive director of Interfaith Youth Core, Rabbi Or Rose, associate dean of the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, and Fr. Dennis Holtschneider, CM, president of DePaul University.
The thrust of this conference was to suggest that interfaith understanding and cooperation are some of the most pressing needs in the world today and that U.S. colleges and universities can and should be on the forefront of this movement.
It was encouraging to hear that the Obama Administration believes in the effectiveness of colleges and universities to: 1. help define what is important in a culture in terms of civic priorities; 2. develop what "good" can look like; 3. advance a knowledge paradigm; and 4. train and mobilize society’s leaders.
It was truly exciting to be a part of this new initiative on behalf of Seattle University. We are actively engaging conversations about what it means to be a Jesuit Catholic university with a very pluralistic campus community. Additionally, Seattle University is truly dedicated to community service, social justice and reflection. Our progress in these areas positions us extremely well to be a leader in the arena of interfaith dialogue, cooperation and service. It is thrilling to know that these are not only our priorities, but that they have become national priorities.