Interfaith Service Efforts Garner National Recognition

From left:  Hannah Eby '15; Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education; Lisa Mishra '15; Elyse Nelson Winger, University Chaplain; Melissa Rogers, Executive Director, White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships
Photo Credit to Paul Wood, U.S. Department of Education.
President's Challenge

Oct. 31, 2013       

BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— The interfaith service efforts at Illinois Wesleyan University have received national recognition in the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge Inaugural Report compiled by the U.S. Department of Education.

The report was released in September 2013 and includes the best practices from universities all across the United States participating in the Challenge.

The White House Center of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships launched the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge in the summer of 2011.

President Barack Obama wrote in a foreword for the Inaugural Report, “Based on the simple truth that Americans of all faiths or even no faith, share a common destiny, we asked higher education institutions to develop or strengthen their interfaith and community service programs.”

Evelyn Chapel has lead IWU’s initiatives as a part of the Challenge, and is also home to the Multifaith Ambassador program.

The program is composed of student leaders representing a variety of faith and non-faith traditions. These Ambassadors were highlighted in the report along with IWU’s Interfaith Service Day and “Light the Night: A Multicultural Celebration of Season of Light.”

The Multifaith Ambassadors also founded IWU Interfaith, a new RSO. It’s mission is to create a more peaceful world through encouraging mutual respect and understanding between faith and non-religious traditions, as well as to cultivate an active role in service in the Bloomington-Normal community.

“I really wanted our campus to be a part of the Challenge so that students, first of all, would know that we are a part of a national interfaith and service movement,” said Chaplain Rev. Elyse Nelson Winger. “I also hoped they’d be exposed to best practices from other campuses across the country.”

Students from other IWU Student organizations such as, Death, Resurrection, Life (D.R.L.), Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Student Secular Alliance, Hillel and IWU Peace Garden, have also participated in these Challenge events.

IWU Students Lisa Mishra, Class of 2015, and Hannah Eby, Class of 2015, both Multifaith Ambassadors, have risen above as leaders of interfaith cooperation on campus. “They were an integral part of helping to plan the programs and the service day that we held as a part of the Campus Challenge,” said Chaplain Nelson Winger.

Mishra, from Hoffman Estates, Ill., is an international studies and economics double major, while Eby, from Dubuque, Iowa, is a music and Hispanic studies double major.

“Upon moving to the United States from India, I encountered numerous opportunities to help educate others about my Hindu identity,” said Mishra. “I also faced challenges of marginalization due to my background and knew that a commitment to increasing religious literacy and interfaith cooperation was the most effective remedy.”

Eby’s passion for interfaith engagement stems from her awareness that learning about other traditions enriches her own beliefs. Eby said, “What better place to learn about people's personal philosophies and reflect on our own traditions than on a liberal arts campus?”

The pair also attended a national gathering at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. in September 2013 to further their multifaith education. The gathering brought together most of the schools participating in the Challenge. The girls heard from guest speakers such as U.S. Secretary of the Department of Education, Arne Duncan and Eboo Patel, founder of the Interfaith Youth Core. The students said they gained insight to expand IWU Interfaith’s outreach, and were able to see the impact the Challenge is having globally.

“We learned about interfaith community partnerships, RSO initiatives, and fundraising efforts on other campuses,” said Mishra “I was amazed and proud of how much our university had already done, but left inspired to do even more.”

“Participating in the Challenge conference was one of the highlights of my college career,” said Eby.

According to Eby, Patel challenged attendees to think about how the world would change if interfaith cooperation became a social norm. “As a campus, we are working in this direction at the frontlines of the interfaith movement,” said Eby. “Interfaith engagement is empowering to students of all religious and non-religious beliefs, and it is a necessary step, as we seek to make our world a better place.”

Contact: Kinzie Schweigert ‘15 (309) 556-3181, univcomm@iwu.edu