Up for a Challenge

SU participates in President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service initiative

Written by Mike Thee
Photography by Mike Thee
July 2, 2012
When you think of Seattle University's distinguishing characteristics, interfaith dialogue and community service are right up there near the top of the list with academic excellence. So when President Barack Obama launched the President's Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge in 2011, SU seemed a logical participant. Over the past academic year the university proved itself more than up for the challenge.

In late June, the university hosted a meeting with Joshua DuBois, head of the Obama Administration's Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, which is spearheading the Interfaith Challenge. DuBois commended SU and other Seattle-area universities represented at the meeting for helping to get the effort going. 

“There is a growing understanding of the need for pluralism because of this challenge,” he said, crediting SU and other participants with being “the central part of a movement that's happening across the country.”

It was up to each participating college and university to devise an initiative that combines interfaith dialogue with service. SU chose to link its effort with the Youth Initiative by placing a group of students in a variety of yearlong service activities within the Bailey Gatzert neighborhood.

About 30 students participated throughout the year, contributing an estimated 800 hours of service as tutors and mentors to the youth of the neighborhood. Once a month, the students gathered for reflection dinners at which they explored the connection between their service experiences and interfaith dialogue and cooperation. Speakers of various faith traditions were brought in to enrich the conversations.

The Office of Campus Ministry, particularly Erin Beary Andersen, associate director and multifaith minister, and intern Whitney Broetje, a recent graduate of the Student Development Administration program, led SU’s effort.

“The President's Challenge has helped us elevate the university's ongoing commitment to interfaith dialogue,” says Beary Andersen. “Students began to gain a language around faith and justice and began to articulate, either philosophically or theologically, the correlation between values and the service they were doing.”

One of the participating students, Ada Rinne, affirms that. “Going into the President's Challenge, I expected to grow in my understanding of how different faith traditions approach issues of service and social justice,” she explains. “What I did not expect was a deepening of my own beliefs and convictions. The group provided a space for learning and reflection in which my own understanding of my values deepened and evolved.”
Seattle University will continue the initiative next year. 

“We always intended for this to be a longterm commitment,” Beary Andersen says. Having recently moved into the associate director role, Beary Andersen will hand the reins of the Interfaith Challenge to Rev. Tad Monroe who joins Campus Ministry staff this summer as ecumenical and multifaith minister. Monroe comes to SU from Urban Grace in Tacoma, where he served as pastor.
Erin Beary Andersen of Campus Ministry with Joshua DuBois of the Obama administration during his recent visit to campus.