Across the country, students are returning to college and university campuses ready to reconnect with their communities of learning in ways new and familiar. In addition to building knowledge in the classroom, these students are wrestling with some of the most challenging social issues of our time, ones that directly threaten the cooperative wellbeing of their institutions.
Many of these students attended this year’s Interfaith Leadership Summit in Chicago and had the opportunity to learn from peers, scholars, artists, and experienced interfaith leaders about how they can plant the seed of bridgebuilding on campus using creativity and innovation. Others, like the students you’ll learn about below, practiced their bridgebuilding skills through other Interfaith America programs, like the Building Interfaith Leadership Initiative (BILI) Launchpad Fellowship.
As you and your friends, colleagues, and mentors reinvigorate existing relationships and explore new bonds at the start of this academic year, take some inspiration from four former BILI Launchpad Fellows whose commitment to interfaith cooperation and bridgebuilding across difference led them to organize on-campus events celebrating interfaith and the arts.
Learn about the students and their interfaith and arts events:
Simardeep Singh Gawra
University of Southern California
Simardeep Singh Gawra is a 2023 graduate of the University of Southern California studying Biomedical Engineering and Computational Neuroscience. As a USC student, he was the president of both the Sikh Student Association and Science Outreach. As part of the USC Sikh Student Association, he worked to facilitate bonding within the USC Sikh community and held interfaith events with other student organizations. Apart from the university, Simardeep is also involved in two nonprofits: Gurmat Sangeet Collection and Anhad Magazine. Both organizations work to help Sikh youth across the globe access resources to learn about the Sikh religion when there is no one to teach in their respective communities. Simardeep also works locally to help bring awareness to religious tolerance and acceptance at local schools, communities, and colleges. Simardeep’s other extracurriculars include an interest in old Indian Instruments (e.g., Dilruba, Jori, Thabla, Baansuri, Sarangi, and Rabab), pottery, welding, and frontend/backend web development.
‘Music and Multiculturalism,’ an interfaith event, aimed to cultivate diversity, encourage interfaith dialogues, and foster cultural understanding at the University of Southern California (USC). In planning the event, our primary objectives were to encourage interfaith dialogue, foster cultural understanding, and promote diversity at USC. Our project, more specifically, addressed the need for a broader representation of different musical traditions and cultural perspectives on campus. The event offered musicians of a diversity of backgrounds the platform to demonstrate their talent and discuss music’s role in their cultural and spiritual lives. Engaging in workshops and discussions enabled students to immerse themselves in unfamiliar musical traditions and gain insights into their spiritual significance. Feedback suggested that the event effectively advanced interfaith dialogue and understanding and cultivated an appreciation for varied musical traditions. Attendees experienced a strengthened sense of unity and highlighted the importance of such inclusive events for fostering a welcoming campus environment.
James Glenn is a young, convinced Friend, an aspiring movement chaplain, and a trans scholar of liberation. He is currently a student at Guilford College studying Community and Justice and Religious Studies. At Guilford, he works in the Friends Center helping to coordinate multifaith activities on campus. Jim is also a proud member of the Quaker Leadership Scholars Program, where he has served his community in leading worship, doing service, and helping staff to provide spiritual support on campus. He has a deep love for queer and womanist theology, Quaker history, and his home state of Michigan. Above all, he is a firm believer in the redemptive power of love and that we can collectively make a way out of no way.
Community Worship is an intentional, interfaith gathering space that is led each week by a student liturgist and an invited proclaimer who brings a message. We invited proclaimers from a variety of traditions, with special emphasis placed on centering non-Christian perspectives as much as possible. Each week included materials for gathering and centering, such as silence, poetry, or song, a message from the proclaimer, and a responding activity where those present could reflect upon and respond to the message given. Our goal was to create community around shared topics and understanding, as well as difference and the value in seeing perspectives that may be radically different from one’s own. Our events were attended by the Guilford College community, as well as the larger community in Greensboro that we welcomed. We invited faith leaders and some faculty from various institutions and roles in and around Greensboro.
Parveen Mundi is a student at DePaul University studying Political Science with a minor in Chinese Language Studies. Beyond the classroom, she serves on the Executive Board of Dear Asian Youth, a global student-led 501(c)(3) that works to uplift Asian youth into intersectional empowerment through digital advocacy while showcasing holistic and equitable representation in the Asian community. As a founding member of multiple departments at Dear Asian Youth, her contributions include growing the organization to include a global network of 170+ chapters in nearly 20 countries and over 110K+ followers on Instagram. She has furthered her exploration of global citizenship through interfaith and intercultural learning through work with the Institute for Nonprofit Practice, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Parliament of the World’s Religions, and the U.S. House of Representatives. Parveen is motivated to seek a career in human rights law, policymaking, or diplomatic affairs — with her ultimate goal being to establish democratic institutions founded on the rule of law and ensure that access to legal justice is a reality for people of all marginalized identities.
“The ‘Imagining a World of Religious Pluralism’ project allowed students to answer questions around pluralism, belonging, and community through a visual art showcase and open mic night around this theme. My goal was to start conversations around interfaith that engaged more with the student body rather than solely within the interfaith circles at the University. This project discussed religious pluralism, a lack of visibility and inclusivity in representing faith groups across campus, and centering student perspectives at a university where the administration tends to push initiatives top-down rather than allowing stakeholders to do the same. The art show featured four interfaith leaders and DePaul students. Works included Chinese Buddhist calligraphy, a written letter drawing on multiple traditions, an Urdu poem with Islamic elements, and a mixed media piece about Shabbat. The open mic night featured students from all across the University who were simply there because they cared about religious pluralism on our campus.”
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Amanpreet Kaur Sehra is a first-generation Sikh-Punjabi American who is majoring in Finance, Investment, and Banking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In March 2020, Amanpreet co-founded SikhTeens, a religious non-profit organization aimed to encourage the youth to learn and further themselves on the Sikh journey through different forms of media in order to provide a resource for younger teenagers. Now, she is the current Co-Executive Director with a vision of creating an organization that is the resource to all young Sikhs to promote inclusion and change in their own communities. As a badger at UW-Madison, Amanpreet is involved in many different campus organizations including the Sikh Student Association, Wisconsin School of Bhangra, Badger Loop, and Capital Management Club. In the upcoming years, Amanpreet is excited to enter the world of banking while also committing to the community around her.
For the ‘Interfaith Pottery’ event, I partnered with an organization that I am part of on campus called Chup Go Vote. We invited South Asian student leaders on campus to spend an hour painting mugs with us while discussing our own experiences of being South Asian students on campus. My main goal for this event was to hear the perspectives of South Asian student leaders on campus and create a space where they could all meet each other. I wanted to encourage these leaders to get to know each other, so that in the future they could host more events together, or at least consider other faiths and backgrounds when planning their events. I specifically targeted student leaders to come to Interfaith Pottery (it was not open to the general public) because I wanted this to become a recurring type of event, not a singular event. I hope that next year we can have more such events for these leaders to address issues on our campus and to encourage each other to host more mindful events that are inclusive to all students.
As you and your community brainstorm ways to build social cohesion on campus, we invite you to use Interfaith America and our Interfaith Leadership Institute programs to inspire your next event. Learn more about this year’s Interfaith Leadership Summit, the new cohort of BILI Launchpad Fellows, our new Virtual Skillbuilding Cohorts for undergraduates, the Foundations of Interfaith Leadership online course, and the Interfaith Leaders in Higher Education Council.