A Peaceful Coexistence: The Interfaith Living Learning Community

September 01, 2010

Students participate in an interfaith living learning community.

Members of the Interfaith Living Learning Community pictured from left to right: Dan Berlinger, Ruth E. Day, Michael Barrett, Anna Montoya, Veronica Coolman, Airam Dato-On. Not Pictured: Ariane Rosen and Neil Desai.

Inclusion and respect for all faiths—a hot topic in the media these days. It’s nothing new, however, for Rollins’ Office of Multicultural Affairs, which aims every day to foster inclusion and equality and enhance students’ understanding of and comfort level with diversity.

For a small group of Rollins students, the concept of cultivating a climate of inclusion means more than merely adorning their car with a “COEXIST” bumper sticker; it means integrating respect for all faiths into their everyday lives including the choice to live and learn alongside people of various religious affiliations.

Fall 2010 marks the unveiling of the Interfaith Living Learning Community, an initiative that represents a historical first for the College. Eight students will call Interfaith Hall, a two-suite living space in Sutton Place Apartments, home for the 2010-11 academic year. Here they intend to learn about one another’s customs and beliefs. They also hope to foster a mutually respectful and inclusive community that will influence the greater Rollins community.

“To me, it’s a social experiment to see how people with various beliefs can live together,” said Michael Barrett (Class of 2013), a resident of the Interfaith Living Learning Community. “I think that the Interfaith household and club can serve as a microcosm of Rollins because we’re representing different people and groups within the College. Our initial goal is to increase awareness and acceptance amongst ourselves and then spread that to the greater community.”

The students of Interfaith Hall—comprised of believers and non-believers—are also the founding members of Interfaith Club. Interfaith Club is not limited to students who live in Interfaith Hall, but any student interested in promoting and participating in interfaith initiatives. What they learn together will be shared with the larger Rollins community via collaboration with faculty, staff and students and through events such as community dinners and faith-based celebrations. Students will also be encouraged to attend worship services outside their faith and challenging them to be informed, independent thinkers rather than simply regurgitating opinions from the news.

“The work that we do at Interfaith Hall is important because we live in a world where there is a lot of uncertainty about spiritual beliefs and out of that uncertainty comes a lot fear,” said Anna Montoya (Class of 2013), another resident of the Interfaith Living Learning Community. Montoya hopes that this initiative presents a model of what our world is capable of being.

Dean of the Chapel Patrick Powers, a founding member of Interfaith Club, sees this initiative as something both idealistic and realistic. “If we are going to have a world where people are tolerant of each other, then we have to learn to sit down and talk with each other, eat with each other, pray with each other and live with each other,” said Powers.

Mahjabeen Rafiuddin, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs believes it’s important to give Rollins students a diverse set of experiences that move them beyond ordinary interactions with people of their own faith and ethnic group. “Our perceptions of the world come through our experiences,” she said. “Diversity education creates a learning environment where students can discover all the cultures that represent the United States. Unity is only possible through understanding, accepting and valuing diversity.”

The Office of Multicultural Affairs focuses many of its initiatives on fostering inclusion and equality for Rollins’ multicultural and minority students and provides experiences that enhance students’ understanding of and comfort level with diversity.

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