Finding community through interfaith initiatives
A student's perspective
Coming to Virginia Tech, I was in search of a community that challenged me as much as it accepted me. It was difficult to find an organization that allowed for deeper conversations about beliefs and identities while remaining open to all backgrounds and worldviews. This was a struggle for me since I thought college was the time to explore these topics and engage with others who could share different narratives that challenged my assumptions.
It was not until my sophomore year that I was able to find a community of curious and thoughtful individuals who I could engage with fully. At my first Interfaith Dialogue through the Interfaith Program at Virginia Tech, I found myself immersed in diverse conversation on existentialism in college. Never before had I found a space so open to deeper topics, and after that first dialogue, I was hungry for more of this type of discussion. After attending Interfaith Dialogues for several months, I truly can say that my perspective has broadened with each conversation, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every story shared by my fellow students and community members.
This fall, I was able to help the interfaith initiative at Virginia Tech grow into a broader network that integrates college life and interfaith relationships. In August, a group of students and I formed what is now Synergy: Interfaith Collective at Virginia Tech, a student organization.
Synergy is the result of our dedication to interfaith student leadership and connection. Our commitment to interfaith cooperation extends into the realm of social justice, environmental protection, and political reform. As a bridged student community of different beliefs, we learn that we share values from our (non)religious backgrounds that guide us to be upstanding leaders in our society. With Synergy, I am able to go forward knowing that my civic engagement will respect all voices in my community, not just my own.
In addition to Synergy, I have been able to connect with others in the Exploring Purpose and Meaning Support Group, a new collaboration between the Interfaith Program through the Dean of Students Office and Cook Counseling Center. I wanted to gain perspective on how my life as a student could lead to meaningful changes. In the support group, I learned that I was not alone in my questioning. The question of purpose is at the forefront of many college students’ minds. Listening to others talk about their journeys and how they found, or struggle with finding, their meaning in life created space for me to explore these topics without holding judgment.
Since Virginia Tech’s interfaith initiatives impacted my life in such a positive way, I was thrilled to help steer Aurora, the new interfaith Living-Learning Community (LLC). When deciding on the name, the word “aurora” spoke to me. This magnificent phenomena lends its grandeur to the varying colors of light that come together. I believe that as spiritual beings we all have our own light to share with others, and the difference in our spiritualities is what lends to the beauty of our connections. Many times in college, I felt there was no space for my worldview, but now, through interfaith, not only have I gained a greater appreciation of the differences in thought and belief, I have also learned the true value of my own spiritual journey. I am excited to see first-year students – who, like me, are questioning their purpose, seeking a greater meaning to life, and yearning for different perspectives – find a community like Aurora that holds space for all of these things.
In every interfaith program at Virginia Tech, I have felt that the entire community values my background, opinions, and contributions. The interfaith initiatives have been a safe haven for me during a time where we are deeply divided as a nation. With interfaith, we are able to set aside our own prejudices, assumptions, and beliefs for a moment as we engage in civil dialogue with one another. I hope the message that interfaith engagement shares will continue to spread to the larger community, and we learn to unite with our neighbors to create positive social change.
Michelle Morris is a junior majoring in Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics. She holds officer positions in the student organizations Synergy and Active Minds and is part of the steering committee for Aurora, the new interfaith Living-Learning Community.<