In a world where divisiveness is defining today’s culture, religious diversity is no exception, and organizations are in need of interfaith leaders who are able and willing to bridge that gap.

While church and state remain separate, the varying identities of Virginia Tech students cannot be so easily compartmentalized. A recent grant award is going to help one campus office implement sustainable programs supporting religious pluralism.

The Dean of Students Office at Virginia Tech has been awarded the Campus Innovation Grant from the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) to support the university’s interfaith outreach, benefiting diversity and inclusion efforts as well as the holistic well-being of students.

“Each year the IFYC provides grants to campuses, particularly those that are getting started in their efforts. The Campus Innovation Grant allows institutions like Virginia Tech to kick off their interfaith work in a meaningful and transformative way,” said Byron Hughes, Virginia Tech dean of students.

The grant award jump-starts a campus interfaith effort, which was a key recommendation from an interfaith consultant hired in summer 2017 to analyze the spiritual culture at Virginia Tech.

Kelly Shushok, the interfaith consultant, recommended the university increase the frequency and intensity of opportunities to gather people with diverging views so that attitudes, knowledge, and relationships grow among diverse groups of people.

With the grant now in hand, the Dean of Students Office will initiate an interfaith effort, which will allow the Blacksburg campus to improve dialogue across the religion, faith, and meaning-making communities. Specific plans for the grant funding include bringing an interfaith speaker to campus, hosting a monthly lunch discussion series, and initiating an inaugural retreat in the spring.

“We will specifically utilize the IFYC Campus Innovation Grant to develop a two-day, intergroup dialogue experience called Common Ground. This experience will take place in spring 2020 and will allow us to travel off-site with approximately 20-30 students to dive deep in conversations about beliefs, identities, values, and service through the faith dimension,” said Hughes.

“We want to continue to foster a culture that views different traditions as channels of cooperation. We are committed to graduating global citizens, and this work helps advance this mission,” said Patty Perillo, vice president for Student Affairs.

The Interfaith Youth Core is a national nonprofit organization that works closely with public and private colleges and universities to advance interfaith engagement, programming, and education, and brings diversity and leadership to the forefront in the interfaith community. According to their website, “IFYC equips students, educators, and whole institutions with the vision, knowledge, and skills to advance this on campus and far beyond.”

This grant will allow the university community tangible first steps to explore how the college experience interfaces with a student’s spiritual identity. “Our hope is that interfaith engagement brings people together in ways that undergird the importance of intersectionality and how all identities (known and unknown) matter — both our own and others. It is another way that students can embrace their authentic selves, ExperienceVT, and further engage the Aspirations for Student Learning,” said Hughes.

The Dean of Students Office is one of more than 20 departments under Student Affairs at Virginia Tech. Housed in 109 New Hall West, a new office location as of this summer, the mission is unchanged. The Dean of Students is committed to offering care and support to students so they flourish in nearly every imaginable way. The office is open Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and afterhours/weekends, 365 days a year by phone at 540-231-6411 (press 1).

Related link:

Interfaith consultant analyzes spiritual culture at Virginia Tech

Written by Jane Nunn, a junior majoring in national security and foreign affairs in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences. Graphic by Rachel DeBusk.