by Emily Schroder, VP of Better Together @ UNF
Before the important stuff, I need to express how AMAZING SNOW IS. I’ve lived in Florida all my life and I’ve only traveled in the summertime, so this trip to Atlanta in January 2014 was my first time witnessing a wintery wonderland. THAT was a great start to the weekend.
Also, can we briefly talk about the food? Oh my gosh. SO. GOOD. There were halal, kosher, and vegetarian options for every meal and snack. I never really think about how significant food can be at a large gathering, but even the simplicity of offering diversity-friendly nutrients had an amazing impact. It immediately made the space welcoming and comfortable.
Ok, now down to business. The ILIs (Interfaith Leadership Institute) are programs hosted in multiple cities every year by IFYC (Interfaith Youth Core). At the ILIs, students “train to be interfaith leaders who build relationships across identities, tell powerful stories to bridge divides, and mobilize their campuses through interfaith projects” (ifyc.org). We learn to promote change on our campuses and take the first steps toward making interfaith cooperation a social norm, especially through Better Together campaigning and participation in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. The faculty and staff who join us at the ILIs are able to network with other professionals in the education field and partner up with their students to change their campus climate.
The 3 most important things I learned at the ILIs were:
1. This movement is HUGE! There are so many colleges/universities and so many individuals who are passionate about interfaith work. I was so amazed and so inspired to see the breadth of the movement and the agreement upon its sentiments.
2. UNF has a leadership role in the movement. I knew I was pleased with our efforts, but I had no idea that we were seen as exemplary across the IFYC map. Our university was used as an example of model interfaith work multiple times during the conference; I couldn’t help but feel immense pride and joy that we were making such a difference and doing so well.
3. My story has significance. During our story telling workshop, I was finally able to track down the main point of my personal interfaith story. Finding this core- this concept that makes so much sense now that I’ve named it- helps me to better understand myself as well as the significance of my interfaith efforts. I’ve realized that my story is about the importance that one single interaction can have on people. My story is about how, at a young age, I became disillusioned and angry towards one certain religious group from which I had been rejected. I held a grudge, and I allowed one single interaction to affect my entire conception of Christianity. One single statement by one single person turned me sour. Then, after converting to an eclectic sect of Paganism, I expected everyone to be open to me. To refrain from judging me. To reject stereotypes and not attack me for my religious identity. Yet, I was doing all these things to the Christians I came into contact with. I was deeply rooted in hypocrisy, and I was no better than the person who had first hurt me. I learned that the point of my story is this: the interactions you have with someone may affect them exponentially. Do you want to have a negative effect or a positive one? If you want to be heard, you must listen. If you want to be treated gently, you must be gentle. If you want people to stop stereotyping and assuming, you must stop these practices yourself. Be the positive experience for the people you come into contact with, for they may carry it with them for the rest of their lives.