Over 400 people from more than 130 colleges convened in Gaston Hall on Monday and Tuesday for the president’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, held at Georgetown for the first time this year.
The national conference’s large events were accompanied by breakout sessions and faculty and student panels. Senior administration officials, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, spoke at the event.
The president’s challenge emphasized interfaith service as an important way to build understanding between different communities and contribute to the common good, facilitating connections between campuses that are working toward building bridges of understanding through addressing common concerns of service.
Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs Assistant Director for Programs Melody Fox Ahmed said that while Georgetown has always been seen as a potential host because of its leadership on interreligious dialogue, the logistics of the event were not feasible until this year. In the past, the conference has been held during the summer to accommodate greater numbers. The move to the fall was intended to further integrate the conference into campus life.
“The way this Catholic and Jesuit identity makes [Georgetown] so unique because it is rooted in faith but so welcoming to people of all faiths and none,” Ahmed said.
Direct of AmeriCorps William Basl and Duncan spoke on Tuesday about the importance of student service.
“The example you guys are setting for us adults is extra profound. No matter what you do, that commitment to giving back is part of what you are,” Duncan said. “I’m really, really hopeful about where the nation is going.”
White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Executive Director Melissa Rogers traced the evolution of the challenge and underscored its importance during her talk Monday.
“This idea is very simple but also very powerful. It is the idea of creating opportunities for community service for students, faculty and administrators of all faiths and none, and coupling that with dialogue across religious lines to build better understanding,” Rogers said.
Public Engagement Advisor Paul Monteiro from the Office of White House Public Engagement talked about the critical role interfaith organizations could play in the context of healthcare, especially in mobilizing young adults to sign up for health insurance.
In addition to White House officials, students also had the chance to speak. Georgetown Interfaith Student Council Co-President Aamir Hussain (COL ’14) spoke about how Georgetown’s Jesuit identity helped him further explore his own Muslim identity.
“I love how Georgetown is hosting this because it’s kind of an affirmation of our university’s values,” Hussain said. “When John Carroll founded Georgetown, he said that he himself experienced discrimination, so he made sure no one else felt that way. As a Muslim at a Catholic school, I feel like we are accomplishing that mission.”
Special to The Hoya Griffin Cohen contributed reporting.