Participants focus on interfaith collaboration at conference


More than 40 participants gathered Saturday for a strategic and action-oriented conference designed to build collaboration among religious, spiritual and secular voices at the University of Michigan and other area higher education institutions.

Kelly Dunlop, associate director of the Center for Campus Involvement, said the Regional Interfaith Conference: The Future of Religious, Spiritual and Secular Diversity On Your Campus was one of many initiatives designed to better serve student needs.

“As we further the strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion, students’ spiritual identity needs to be part of the plan. This conference centers religious, spiritual, secular identities and tools to build interfaith collaboration on campus, Dunlop said.

“This action-oriented conference gathered the voices of students, staff, campus ministers and community leaders to be part of the plan for interfaith engagement at U-M.”

Photo of Convergence founder and executive director Cody Nielsen walkin participants through the 4 Pillars of Interfaith Engagement.
Cody Nielsen, founder and executive director of Convergence, walks participants through the 4 Pillars of Interfaith Engagement at the interfaith conference. (Photo by Yazad Dhunjisha)

The event was hosted by Center for Campus Involvement and Trotter Multicultural Center, and was organized by several regional institutions, including Eastern Michigan University, Lourdes University, Madonna University, the University of Detroit Mercy, UM-Dearborn and the University of Toledo.

E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, opened the program encouraging that “students open themselves to learning about the diverse religions that exist on campus. In the first year of college in particular, these experiences can be life-altering.”

Meeting these challenges includes a focus on interfaith, she said.

“While many students take advantage of the support mechanisms available through local campus ministries or student organizations, others have expressed that campus appears at times to be hostile to their religious/spiritual identity. Still, others grapple to reconcile the religious identity they grew up with and who they are today,” Harper said.

“Many want to know where they can go and who they can talk with on campus. We want to create opportunities for students to develop their religious/spiritual identities and engage with others in the communities.”

Facilitated by the organizations Interfaith Youth Core and Convergence, this conference aimed to gather students, faculty, staff, administrators and campus ministers from regional institutions for a day focused on incorporating religious diversity more fully into the life of their institutions.

Participants spent the day assessing their current climate for students with diverse religious, spiritual and secular identities, learned best practices and policies for enhancing that climate, and developed and shared a strategic plan for religious diversity to begin to implement when they return to campus, Dunlop said.

Photo of students and staff from the University of Detroit Mercy developing their campus action plan
Students and staff from the University of Detroit Mercy develop their campus action plan. (Photo by Yazad Dhunjisha)

Tracy D. Wright, senior health management consultant and nurse case manager for the Office of the Dean of Students, was involved from the beginning as a member of the Spiritual Affinity staff group on campus.

“Spirituality is an area of personal development and contributes to well-being,” Wright said. “Through this gathering I hope to learn new strategies to bring spirituality into our work with student holistic growth and development.”

Matt Ackerman, pastor at the Campus Chapel and the current president of the Association of Religious Counselors at U-M, said interfaith conversations are important on two levels: helping people better understand one another, and finding common ground within those convictions and beliefs.

“The first piece, understanding, is incredibly important in our polarized world. We need more opportunities to simply sit down together and listen to each other. But the second piece is even more important, because we can work together for common good without sacrificing our respective beliefs,” Ackerman said.

CCI provides strategic and collaborative student organization learning and development for more than 1,500 student organizations, transformative student programs, and needed resources to serve the diverse student body.

Dunlop sees the event a success.

“Diversity is a fact. Pluralism is an achievement. Based on the conversations we began at the conference, we look forward to continuing to strengthen interfaith cooperation and engagement to serve the diverse spiritual needs of our students,” she said.



  1. Nathaniel Warshay
    on November 13, 2018 at 5:25 am

    Great idea. Although, as it occurred on a Saturday, the traditional Jewish Sabbath (Shabbat), observant Jews were by design excluded.

Leave a comment

Commenting is closed for this article. Please read our comment guidelines for more information.