Five months after the University hosted the kickoff to President Barack Obama’s nationwide interfaith service challenge, the student championing GW’s efforts said campus participation has fallen flat.
Shivam Gosai, leader of the Student Interfaith Executive Board, said not enough students are getting involved and interfaith dialogues are not happening in tandem with community service.
The University has sought to incorporate religion into existing service activities and diversity efforts, in response to the president’s call for colleges to integrate volunteerism and faith. The efforts have yet to include new programming dedicated to faith-based service, according to GW’s mid-year report sent to the White House in December.
“We need a lot more from the students,” Gosai said. “We need to create events where dialogue and service is actually happening.”
The junior called for a stronger link between religion and community service to encourage “beyond superficial” conversations and to make students feel more comfortable sharing their religious beliefs.
GW added two events centered on interfaith service to an existing diversity initiative last fall. As part of National Coming Out Week in October, the LGBT Resource Center hosted a panel of religious leaders and a service event for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students led by the same figures. Each event attracted fewer than 20 students, the report showed.
Religion was also integrated into last fall’s Freshman Day of Service, which featured White House official and interfaith activist Eboo Patel and attracted more than 2,300 participants, and the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service this spring, which highlighted four faiths’ ties to the civil rights leader and gathered more than 400 participants.
Without a strong showing of support from GW, Gosai said students have been left to pick up the slack.
For the first time, the Jewish Student Association will host a student-led Interfaith Shabbat Dinner this week with the Muslim Students’ Association.
“It’s a great opportunity for Jews and non-Jews on campus to start a conversations about similarities and differences,” Jenny Orel, president of the Jewish Student Association, said.
This fall, GW created a nine-member student board and a 10-member staff, faculty and community partner board to solicit feedback about access to sacred space, pastoral care and counseling, and integrating “spiritual development” into “student development,” the mid-year report showed.
Associate Director of Inclusion Initiatives Tim Kane, who spearheaded GW’s involvement in the challenge, said the efforts are more than just faith-based programming.
The University is also focusing on strengthening relationships between students of different faiths, which Kane said “more often happens through day-to-day respectful engagement of individuals and groups.”
He added that “many students have voiced their sincere appreciation for having new and enhanced opportunities to share their own faith traditions, while learning about other faith traditions.”
Hoping to see progress from GW in the future, Gosai emphasized the importance of attracting more attention to the cause.
“If you are participating in service with people of different faiths, you will feel comfortable entering a dialogue about faith,” Gosai said.
This article appeared in the February 9, 2012 issue of the Hatchet.