Teaching Leadership Skills
by Dan Pawlus
Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) seeks to make interfaith cooperation a social norm – a world where individuals have positive relationships across lines of faith and an appreciative understanding of the diverse traditions in our society. IFYC focuses our efforts on a mutually enriching higher education strategy working with colleges and universities. The goal is to transform their campus ecologies, making interfaith cooperation a priority and engaging students through a dynamic national Better Together campaign that trains a new generation of interfaith leaders.
Serving as a unifying call-to-action, IFYC’s Institutes connect students with the skills and information to take interfaith action to make the world better together on campuses all over the country. Student organizers and supporting faculty members attend Interfaith Leadership Institutes throughout the year where they are trained in-depth in the key components of interfaith cooperation and how to run a successful Better Together campaign in their own communities.
The Institutes help students understand and employ interfaith action, asking them to voice their religious/non-religious values, experiences, and identities; engage with others across lines of religious difference in meaningful conversations about those values; and act together on shared values to make a better world.
Students and faculty also sign up for monthly Campaign Dispatches and stay in close contact with IFYC messages and actions via our website, Facebook page and groups, and Twitter. Resources and tools are available to run your own Better Together campaigns.
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What Happens to IFYC Interfaith Leadership Institute Participants?
I am Mason Sklut, a sophomore Media Arts and Entertainment major and Jewish Studies minor at Elon University, from Charlotte, North Carolina. Coming from a Jewish background makes me a minority at college. Better Together has given me the chance to share my experience of being Jewish to show the importance of tolerance and respect to students from both religious and non-religious backgrounds.
It all began for me in middle school when I faced many instances of anti-Semitism from fellow classmates. My peers made Holocaust jokes and referenced derogatory Jewish stereotypes nearly every day. Two months later I decided to tell my parents. I could not get over the terrifying realization that all of my close friends would turn on me like that. For almost four years I did not tell anyone. That was the last I ever communicated with anyone from middle school.
During freshman year at Elon, I came across an advertisement about Better Together. It grabbed my attention with its message of “interfaith cooperation.” Immediately I wanted to learn more, remembering the incident in middle school where there clearly was no interfaith cooperation. Last spring, I began to participate as an active member in Better Together to initiate the campaign here at Elon. Zach Jordan, Immanuel Bryant, Jasmine Whaley, and I helped get the organization established. I used my story of anti-Semitism as a tool to teach others the importance of tolerance and respect. Through Better Together at Elon, I have formed great relationships with Muslims, Jews, Christians, and students of all faiths and traditions.
This semester, as the co-president of Better Together with Immanuel, we are putting together a discussion series called “REAL TALK with the Rabbi/Priest/Imam/etc.” The goal is to bring in students who want to learn about different religious and non-religious traditions in a casual setting, outside the classroom. We believe this type of environment will encourage difficult questions, helping breakdown stereotypes people have about various faith traditions. We hope to see campus-wide involvement with the interfaith movement at Elon as Better Together encourages ongoing conversations and interaction with others in a diverse atmosphere.
- Mason Sklut
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“As I consider my future in college, I hope to look beyond all religious, cultural, and racial conflicts, and look at how we as students can make the world a better place. I hope to join other students who share this belief and try to solve problems that we face in today’s society. I hope that we can come together facing these issues not as Christians, Jews, Muslims, or representing any other religion or race, but as human beings sharing today’s world.”
Over three years ago, applying to colleges, I included this statement in my college essay. In the end, I chose to go to Syracuse University because it had students from all over the world, from different cultures and religions. (Sports might have had something to do with it as well!)
Last spring, Azhar Ali, an IFYC fellow and good friend of mine, forwarded an e-mail about applying to be of one of three students representing Syracuse at the Interfaith Youth Corps Leadership Institute. It’s something that we were both interested in through our work in the Muslim Students Association (MSA), so we both applied. One year later, along with Rachel Tjornehoj and Leah Nussbaum, we are leading Syracuse University’s Better Together campaign.
Returning from the Institute, we went straight to work. We collaborated with University Union, which brings speakers and musicians to campus, holding a food drive with our annual fall concert. We collected over a thousand cans of food and donated $30,000 to famine relief in the Horn of Africa.
We participated in SU’s Shack-a-thon where students live in shacks for a few days to raise money for Habitat for Humanity. MSA and Hillel were encouraged to send members to spend time in the shack and get to know one another. We started last semester with our Can It! Event during the Syracuse-Georgetown basketball game, collecting over 2,500 cans of food and raising awareness about hunger. Most recently students came together to fight hunger during our Stop Hunger meal packing program, packaging 12,000 meals. Throughout the semester, we plan on holding more engaging dialogue circles, discussions, and panels to bring students across our campus together. After all, we are Better Together.
- Ismail Pathan