New residence to promote interfaith dialogue

Elizabeth Campbell

Students will be able to explore religious diversity in a setting beyond the classroom next year through an Interfaith Living and Learning Community, the newest addition to Northwestern’s residence hall system.

Administrators who oversee religious life, such as the University Chaplain Tim Stevens,will plan events, ranging from service projects to visiting local religious centers, to promote interfaith dialogue among residents of different religious backgrounds. The religion department will also work with the residence hall through firesides and other events, Stevens said.

Although the new residence hall’s exact location on campus has yet to be determined, Stevens compared the interfaith housing arrangement as similar to the Healthy Living Unit in Foster-Walker Complex.

“The purpose is… to learn about the beliefs and practices of a variety of religious traditions and to explore more deeply (students’) own understanding of religion and spirituality,” said the University Chaplain’s Office in a notice released Monday.

“In a broad sense, world interest in these (interfaith) conversations has been growing, and this is an opportunity to take it to another level where a group of people would actually live together,” Stevens said.

Education junior Jessica Joslin expressed her support for such a residence at NU in a letter to Stevens.

“I talked about how given the events of past years, it’s especially important,” Joslin said, referring to November 2003 vandalism at Norris University Center involving a painted swastika and religious slur.

Joslin said she also discussed her positive undergraduate experience living with students of different faiths.

“Having that exposure helped me explore my own faith, which helped lead me to the decision of wanting to be a minister post-graduation,” she said.

English and religion Prof. Barbara Newman said that reading about another religion in class is not the same as living with people who practice a different religion.

“It can give (students) a much deeper sense of how religions are different and what religious people have in common,” Newman said. “It can be a way of deepening their own spirituality and tolerance.”

Students involved in religious organizations on campus expressed support for the emerging community.

Weinberg freshman Saba Berhie, public relations vice president of the Muslim Cultural Students Association said the community will be a positive presence on campus, especially for the often misunderstood Muslim community.

“It’s really important for people to put a name to what Islam is,” Berhie said. “Therefore, (students) know that everything (they) read in the media might not be true.”

Stevens acknowledged that living with students of different faiths could be challenging, but said it will be interesting for students to work through any issues that might arise.

But Berhie stressed that interaction makes the difference.

“You can’t truly understand another religion without knowing some who practices it,” Berhie said.

Reach Elizabeth Campbell at [email protected]