This resource is designed to help you rally support for interfaith efforts across your campus by mapping your interfaith cooperation goals onto your campus’s mission and values. A campus’s mission sets priorities for the campus community and aligns students, staff, and faculty around a common vision. Campuses articulate their missions in a variety of ways. The most common avenues are mission or vision statements, mottos, strategic plans, and learning outcomes.
By tapping into your campus’s mission, you can create a strong platform for your work and anchor your interfaith efforts to what matters most to your campus. For example, if you are advocating for an interfaith reflection and meditation space on campus, you could reference your campus mission statement’s commitment to supporting the needs of a diverse student body as a way to connect the proposed space to the values of the institution. Or, if you are lobbying for the development of a course on the history of the interfaith movement in America, you could reference your campus’s goal of developing global citizens and underscore how important it is for students to know about and appreciate diverse religious and philosophical traditions as they develop global competency. Whatever your interfaith goal, making it relevant to your campus’s articulated values will help you attract more stakeholders and get more funding and support all while fulfilling your campus’s mission.
In this resource, you will find examples of how several different campuses have connected their interfaith activities to their mission or values and a step-by-step guide for how you can lead a process to (a) identify how your campus mission connects with your interfaith cooperation goals and (b) leverage this connection to strengthen your interfaith efforts.
Mapping Interfaith to Your Mission and Vision: Campus Examples
University of Tampa
In 2009, the University of Tampa (UT) in Florida convened a Resource Team for Faith, Values, and Spirituality, which was charged with casting a vision for the soon-to-be constructed Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values. The Resource Team’s work was particularly critical because UT is a secular university with a bumpy relationship to issues of faith and religion. There were constituencies on campus that were opposed to the new Center because they felt that the institution should not support religious practice. The Resource Team had to respond to these critics and was asked to identify how the Center would serve the greater good of the university.
Stephanie Russell Krebs, Dean of Students at UT, was charged with selecting and convening the Resource Team members. She knew that in order for the Resource Team to successfully represent the desires and concerns of the broader community, it would need to include the naysayers. Stephanie met with the deans of the four colleges at UT and asked for recommendations of faculty who had a discipline-specific or personal interest in religious life as well as recommendations for faculty who were the most outraged by the building of the new Center. She also recruited from among her student affairs peers. The result was an inter-disciplinary group that truly represented the breadth of responses to the new Center, even if the members didn’t see eye-to-eye.
As part of their visioning process, the Resource Team members analyzed a set of mission-oriented documents such as the UT mission statement and the “UT Educational Experience,” which is a set of learning outcomes for the university, and identified places where the goals and activities of the new Center would overlap with the values articulated in these guiding documents. The Research Team found many connections between the goals for the new Center and these existing mission documents. As a result, the members of the Research Team were able to incorporate existing university values and goals and use familiar language in the vision for the new Center.
At the conclusion of their visioning process, the Resource Team identified three learning domains for the new Center for Faith and Values: character and values, spiritual journey, and greater understanding of world cultures and religions. All three domains are represented in various ways in existing UT mission related documents although they were often labeled or categorized differently. For example, self reflection, character development and personal growth are all considered goals for Tampa students, but they had never been labeled “spiritual journey” before.
By presenting the learning domains of the new Center for Faith and Values as intertwined with existing university mission documents, the Resource Team was able to situate the new Center within the existing goals of the institution and start from a strong place of agreement and buy-in. This allowed the university community to begin an important conversation about the role of religion on campus and raise awareness of the opportunities that the new Center would offer to students. Over the past several years, this tie-in has helped the Center gain credibility on campus and recruit supporters, particularly amongst those who were initially opposed to it.
Berea College was founded in Berea, Kentucky in 1855. John G. Fee, the founder of Berea College and an ardent abolitionist, understood Berea’s historic purpose “to promote the cause of Christ,” as a call to advance peace and justice in the world. This mission is articulated in the Great Commitments, which provide the backbone to Berea’s identity. The College’s scriptural foundation, “God has made of one blood all peoples of the earth,” continues to inspire a campus culture of acceptance and dignity for all community members.
Breaking down barriers, whether of race, gender, or religion, have been central to Berea’s ethos since its founding, but until recently, had not been directed toward interfaith activities. Several of the Great Commitments support Berea’s inclusive Christian approach and can be newly interpreted to support interfaith engagement on campus. The third Great Commitment reads, “To stimulate understanding of the Christian faith and its many expressions and to emphasize the Christian ethic and the motive of service to others” and the fifth Great Commitment adds, “To assert the kinship of all people…” Berea’s legacy of embracing a variety of Christian expressions and asserting a common humanity regardless of race or religion paves the way for a commitment to interfaith engagement.
Under the leadership of several key staff and faculty members in the Campus Christian Center, and with the guiding vision of President Emeritus Larry Shinn, Berea has made a commitment to engaging religious diversity on campus and to fostering interfaith cooperation across the institution. Berea has continued to live out its inclusive Christian heritage by welcoming people of all faiths and secular traditions through launching a Multi-Faith Council, organizing a series of interfaith action and dialogue events on campus, and participating in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Katie Basham, Assistant Director of the Campus Christian Center, often remarks that Berea is committed to engaging religious diversity because of, not in spite of, its Christian heritage.
In 2009, Elon University in North Carolina, established a new strategic plan titled, “The Elon Commitment: Engaged Minds. Inspired Leaders. Global Citizens,” that incorporates an intentional focus on interfaith cooperation. Interfaith leaders at Elon do not have to work to build a bridge between their work and their campus’s mission because the connection is already made explicit in this document. The first of eight themes highlighted in the strategic plan is, “An unprecedented university commitment to diversity and global engagement.” Under key objectives in this section of the plan is, “Build a multi-faith center and promote interfaith dialogue.” Later in the document is a list of ways that the university will expand support for the spiritual expression of its students, including building the new multi-faith center. This was a ground-breaking component of the new strategic plan since Elon University has a historic connection to the United Church of Christ, but is a secular institution today.
The same year that the new strategic plan was released, President Leo Lambert charged a committee of faculty, staff, and students to develop a proposal for a new multifaith center, designed to serve as the physical embodiment of Elon’s commitment to spiritual support and the academic engagement of religion. In the spring of 2013, the Numen Lumen Pavilion, which is home to the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life and Elon’s interfaith activities, opened its doors. The name for the new space was taken from the Elon University seal, which bears the words, “numen” and “lumen.” Numen and lumen translated from Latin mean “spiritual light” and “intellectual light,” and signify the highest purposes of an Elon education.