Get an update on President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge

Earlier this year, campuses participating in President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge submitted mid-year reports celebrating a halfway point in the year’s programming. Case Western Reserve University accepted President Obama’s challenge in June 2011 and has since worked with members of 19 university departments and offices, 14 undergraduate student organizations and seven faith- and non-faith-based community organizations to provide thought-provoking programs and events for their university.

Each program relied on a different avenue to promote an interfaith dialogue. On Oct. 29, for example, representatives from faith- and non-faith-based student organizations travelled to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park on a dedicated day of service. The students, joined by university staff members, removed invasive foliage, and gathered together to reflect on their experience.

At a follow-up meeting composed of student participants derived from the service retreat, students created a new student organization dedicated to interfaith activity and dialogue. This new Student Interfaith Committee, now organized under the umbrella of the Undergraduate Student Government, will promote and celebrate religious pluralism on the CWRU campus.

CWRU’s participation in the Interfaith Challenge also contributed to open forums for universitywide participation. For instance, an open forum on Nov. 4 asked what role, if any, religion has at a secular institution such as Case Western Reserve University.

Throughout the conversation, panelists and audience members discussed to what extent the university should recognize religion, from remaining neutral to incorporating the topic in classroom discussions. In addition, the forum debated the difference between religion and spirituality, and considered the application of the Student Activities Fee (SAF) fund, to which all of the university undergraduates contribute, towards religious-oriented student organizations.

CWRU is building upon its momentum from the winter months during the spring semester. A catered dinner was provided to interested students, staff and faculty on March 1 to encourage the sharing of perspectives. The program gave participants the opportunity to learn about the experiences, both cultural and religious, of their peers and develop an appreciation for the religious pluralism the campus provides.
Additionally, the Interfaith Challenge working group is organizing a second service retreat, which will include time for dialogue and discussion. The service event will occur in early April, and it will be aligned with the university’s annual Saturday of Service, in which undergraduate students volunteer at nonprofit organizations throughout Greater Cleveland.