Loyola University Chicago

Loyola University Chicago is a Catholic institution rooted in its own heritage with a self-understanding as “a home for all faiths.”[1] Founded by 1870 by Jesuits, an order that emphasizes “a profound commitment to the poor and to issues of social responsibility and justice,” Loyola continues that legacy by encouraging students to become “persons for others.”[2]

Loyola University Chicago’s commitment to interfaith engagement begins with its appreciation for the importance of faith in human experience. The campus ministry has worked with the Interfaith Youth Core, also based in Chicago, to lead the way in creating an interfaith-friendly campus. Institutional support for campus interfaith engagement can be seen in the allocation of physical space, the promotion of student leadership development, and innovative curricular opportunities.

Loyola participated in IFYC’s campus assessment program during the 2010-2011 school year. In this program, IFYC partners with a campus to assess how interfaith cooperation can be included in strategic visioning, how it aligns with the campus mission, what the current campus climate and attitudes are, and how the campus can look outward for more opportunities to promote interfaith cooperation.[3] As Loyola has taken IFYC’s suggestions to heart, they regularly send students to attend Interfaith Leadership Institutes (ILIs) that bring approximately 250-400 students together from college campuses to train as interfaith leaders.

Loyola’s campus ministry suite inhabits most of the second floor of the Damen Student Center which is centrally located on the Lake Shore campus. The suite includes a large multi-purpose room, a hall of newly refurbished rooms for religious groups, and a larger office space for chaplains and staff. The multi-purpose room, which can seat up to 600 people, is used for large campus-wide events such as guest speakers or religious holiday celebrations from a variety of traditions, including Holi, Diwali, and Eid Al-Adha banquets, among others. The rooms assigned to individual student groups are used for prayer, casual meetings, and smaller events and each religious group’s space comes equipped with a kitchen so that each group can observe its own specific dietary customs. Although food can be difficult to navigate across faiths, Brian Anderson, Loyola’s Interfaith Campus Minister, insists that food must be taken seriously if students from diverse faiths are to feel welcome on campus.

Anderson serves as part of a campus ministry team that includes approximately 20 employed chaplains, graduate assistants, and other staff. According to Anderson, campus should be a place where “[a]ll parts are equal—everyone should have a voice that allows us to rejoice in our differences.”[4] The fact that 7 percent of Loyola’s 16,000 students identify as Muslim certainly affords opportunity for enriching dialogues about common values. Students appear to be taking advantage, too. Anderson notes that tradition-specific events, like the annual Holi celebration, are often well attended by members of other faiths; in this case, half of the students who attend are not Hindu.

In 2012, Anderson, with the help of training modules offered by the Interfaith Youth Core, created a program to develop interfaith leadership skills-building opportunities for students on campus. The Interfaith Advocates program includes instruction in dialogue facilitation, event planning, and other skills such as storytelling, which IFYC understands as important in promoting interfaith engagement. During the 2013-2014 school year, 14 students from different faith backgrounds completed the year-long program. Interfaith Advocates plan one large-scale event per semester, usually a cross-campus interfaith dialogue on a specific topic, drawing over 100 students and community members. During the spring semester, Advocates also participate in and lead parts of an interfaith retreat that is open to other interested students. Students report that the relationships and friendships that are created and sustained as part of the program are the most enriching aspect of Interfaith Advocates. As one student explained to Anderson, “[it’s] amazing to learn our similarities…I made new friends that make me feel interconnected.”[5] Anderson notes that it can be a challenge to find secular students who wish to participate in the program. Part of the challenge comes from campus ministry’s intention only to work with faith and religious groups, which does not include secular student groups. In the future, however, he plans to work more closely with Loyola’s Secular Student Alliance leaders to identify possible interest.

Stemming from the Interfaith Advocate program and the visible need to educate not just students but faculty and staff about interfaith leadership, Anderson developed a training called Interfaith Ally Training that allows faculty, staff and students to explore how to better create a more welcoming campus environment for people of all faiths. Anderson notes that the impetus for the program was the frequent requests from students and faculty to learn about different faith traditions, as this was not possible in the classroom. During the training, participants learn about religious holidays, basic tenets, practices, and consider their own relationship to faith or religion. At the end of the three-hour training, participants receive a certificate designating them an Interfaith Ally.[6]

In the fall of 2016, Loyola’s commitment to interfaith engagement will include a curricular component: an interfaith studies minor. Dr. Kathleen Maas Weigert, Assistant to the Provost for Social Justice Initiatives and Professor of Women and Leadership, mobilized the faculty to attend the Toward a Field of Interfaith Studies conference that took place January 22-24, 2014 at New York University’s Of Many Institute. After the conference, six faculty played key roles in creating the new curriculum: Dr. Rhys Willis and Fr. Michael Agliardo of the Sociology department, and Dr. Devorah Schoenfeld, Dr. Marcia Hermanson, Dr. John Murphy, and Dr. Susan Ross of the Theology Department. The new minor will be housed in both departments. This group of faculty, like Anderson, believe that interfaith engagement should be firmly lodged into the campus structure. “We are the world,” Dr. Maas Weigert explains, “and we want our students to have real life experience with that.”[7]

 


[1] “Mission.” Loyola University Chicago. http://www.luc.edu/mission/index.shtml. Accessed August 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Campus Engagement.” Interfaith Youth Core. http://www.ifyc.org/engagements. Accessed September 2014.

[4] Brian Anderson. Interview with author. Chicago, IL. 25 June 2014.

[5] Brian Anderson. Interview with author. Chicago, IL. 25 June 2014.

[6] “Campus Ministry.” Loyola University Chicago. http://www.luc.edu/campusministry/faithprograms/interfaith/interfaithallytraining/. Accessed August 2014.

[7] Dr. Kathleen Maas Weigart. Interview with author. Chicago, IL. 25 June 2014.