Sunday, August 1, 2010

What Does the University Interfaith Council Do?

Posted by Pamela Urfer

(This article was originally published on the Diversity and Inclusion webpage – in August, 2010)

The University Interfaith Council (UIC) is composed of the dedicated representatives from twenty different faith-based groups – Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Baha’i, Hindu, Sikh, American Indian and Christian – who work together to provide a wide range of support programs for students of many different faiths, both those students who arrive on campus as members of a faith group and those who choose to embrace a faith and spirituality as a result of their time spent in the UCSC community.

In many ways, the work of the UIC is similar to that of the Ethnic Resource Centers on campus, and plays a key role in creating and maintaining a positive climate for religious diversity at UC Santa Cruz. According to the 2006 CIRP survey, 48.9% of incoming UCSC students self-identify as practitioners of a religion. 52.1% will have attended a religious service in the past six months and 33.8% have discussed religion with their peers in the past year. Roman Catholics, at 17.5% are, by far, the largest self-identified group.

These figures mandate a positive and pro-active approach to the needs of these students, especially those first-years who have recently left behind a close and caring faith community. These students’ faith heritage is a basic and powerful aspect of their identities which can help them survive the changes and challenges incorporated within the university experience.

It is the goal of the UIC at Santa Cruz, working together with Student Affairs, to build a stronger sense of choice for students to practice and find their faith community on campus, provide and enhance opportunities for developing leadership skills, and link students to community service opportunities. To this end, our programs include celebrations and interfaith gatherings, worship/ meditation, educational events including religious study courses, community service, and spiritual care and counseling to students, faculty and staff.

The UIC also works to create a space for interfaith relationship building between students from different faith groups. The Student Interfaith Council is a loosely organized gathering of students interested in meeting with one another to share a meal and discuss their spiritual journeys and the values of their own faiths. Some of these students will form the core of the new UCSC Spirituality and Faith Theme House opening in Fall 2011.

The UIC attempts to provide a safe space for students to talk about their spiritual paths and aspirations, seek new growth experiences, and deal constructively and appropriately with negative reactions to their beliefs or cultural background. We champion any in the university community – student, staff or faculty – who suffer from religious bias and will work, through our involvement in the Chancellor’s Council for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, to put an end to any such illegal and damaging practices.

Membership in the Interfaith Council is open to any faith-based group focused on serving the UCSC campus community. Representatives may be either adult ministers/rabbis/priests, interested lay persons, or student leaders of student-run groups. The loving co-operation practiced by the UIC’s members can be looked upon as a workable model of diversity and inclusion and belies the common misperception that religion inevitably leads to discord. We invite the entire UCSC community to celebrate their own faith walk with us and help promote tolerance, peace, and understanding toward all faiths and religious traditions.

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