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Bethel Participates in White House Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge

Left to right: Faculty members Sara Shady and Marion Larson, with Bethel President Jay Barnes, outside of the Old Executive Office Building in Washington, D.C.

Bethel University President Jay Barnes and faculty members Sara Shady and Marion Larson traveled to Washington, D.C., on August 3 to help the White House kick off President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Bethel is one of more than 250 colleges, universities, and seminaries that have submitted plans to the White House for yearlong interfaith service projects.

Bethel’s service initiative aims to build on the university’s existing efforts, including the institutional emphasis on reconciliation, Bethel’s presence in the Frogtown/Summit-University (FSU) neighborhood, Interreligious Symposium sessions, and participation in the St. Paul Interfaith Network. Student leaders will work with FSU community members from Mosaic Church and the Da’wah Institute on a variety of service projects aiming to increase the understanding and sense of community between Christians and Muslims.

“We wanted to take existing efforts at Bethel and work to bring these together in meaningful ways,” explains Professor of English Marion Larson. “We decided to focus on working with the Da’Wah Institute, a Muslim community in Frogtown, because finding ways to forge understanding and a sense of community between Christians and Muslims seems particularly crucial in light of world events and the upcoming 10th anniversary of 9/11.”

Bethel’s student leaders for the President’s challenge will have regular mentor meetings with community leaders and Bethel leadership, as well as additional opportunities to experience positive interfaith interactions through on-campus programs. At the end of the 2011-12 school year, Bethel’s President’s Challenge Team will assess the effectiveness of these initiatives and submit a proposal for possible presentation at the 2012 National Faith, Justice, and Civic Learning Conference.

“It is vitally important that we educate our students for constructive citizenship in a religiously diverse society, and that we as Americans learn to navigate our religious diversity,” says Sara Shady, associate professor of philosophy and director of Bethel’s Honors Program. “We need to work to challenge the misperceptions and stereotypes that fuel hatred and violence and prevent persons of different faith traditions from working together to address the social problems facing us today. This is clearly in line with our institutional values of being world-changers and reconcilers.”

The kickoff event in Washington included addresses from administration officials, discussions of the vision for the President’s challenge, discussions of how to encourage service as a solution to community issues, and rollout of next steps in implementing the challenge initiatives, as well as conversations about campus and community partnerships, student leadership and development, and much more.

 “Seeing several hundred representatives from participating campuses helped me feel like we really might be able to build bridges and foster both service and understanding between people of different faiths,” says Larson.

The members of Bethel’s President’s Challenge Team include Larson, Shady, Amy Poppinga (History), Curtiss DeYoung (Reconciliation Studies), Leon Rodrigues (Chief Diversity Officer), Tanden Brekke (Campus Ministries), and Shawn Moore (Bethel Alumnus and Pastor of St. Paul Mosaic Community Church).


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