This story is part of a Patch series examining the Muslim experience 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks. Read other stories in the series .
When Hannah Minks boarded a plane from Washington, D.C. this summer, she heard an unfamiliar accent in the captain's voice and reacted in a way she would later be embarrassed to admit.
"I was scared."
The experience caused the 21-year-old theology major, who was on her way back from an Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) training program, to realize that in a post-9/11 world there’s “definitely work to be done" for faith and race relations in America.
“I felt really silly, embarrassed and ashamed…that I’m still having these fears that are pretty irrational," she said. "I think we have a long way to go."
A new program aims to broaden the horizons and shatter the prejudice of students and faculty of differing religious and cultural backgrounds.
“Religion in my experience isn’t something my generation talks about,” said Minks. “It might be part of our discussion when people talk about meaningful or 'deep' things but people never seem to allow it to aim back into faith or an overarching philosophy they might hold.”
Enter the Interfaith Youth Core, a ten-year-old program that offers guidance for university's looking to engage their student bodies on matters of faith and understanding.
The program was adopted by university officials here after its founder Eboo Patel, an adviser to the Barack Obama President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, roused dozens of university administrators, faculty and students during a meeting in spring 2010.
Patel, an Indian-American Muslim with a passion for connecting and mobilizing students, will speak to DU freshmen in a highly anticipated address Tuesday. Recently named the Rosary College's prestigious Lund-Gill Chair, Patel will teach an honors course, Interfaith Literacy Cooperation, which will explore communication and cooperation skills in a "world fraught by religious diversity."
“The consensus view was that this is worth doing,” said Jeffrey Carlson, a theology professor and dean of the university’s Rosary College of Arts & Sciences.
Absorbing the movement into the university’s ethos seemed obvious, Carlson said, because it dovetails with Dominican University’s motto of "Caritas Veritas," Latin for Love and Truth. Faculty members will now be encouraged to stress religious literacy across the curriculum.
“Can you be a good economist [without religious literacy]? Can you be a good historian?” Carlson asked. “Right now it’s not on the checklist of what students must know. We’re hoping it will be.”
The movement – active on roughly 100 college campuses, according to this July 2011 New York Times story – is still in its humble beginnings at Dominican. Most visibly this semester, nearly all freshman and sophomores will be required to read a common text — Thich Nhat Hahn’s Living Buddha, Living Christ and Diana Eck's Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras.
Students will also be responsible for forming an organization with an interfaith dimension. But university minister Matthew Palkert is careful to say Interfaith Youth Core isn’t a student club. Instead “it’s about creating a student culture,” he said.
“It’s a widely appealing sort of purpose and mission — everyone is included…Anyone who has an inspiration, and I think everyone has that, and something that inspires them.”
Students like Minks and Anne Glaza will help seed discussions by simply asking their classmates: What do you believe?
“We recognize that one’s religion, inspiration and values are part of who they are, and for so long it’s been this faux pas topic, like ‘Don’t even talk about religion,’ you know?” said Palkert. “And [IFYC] is saying yes, we need to talk about religion, we need to talk about what you believe in because it’s who you are as a person and if we didn’t talk about it, we’re dismissing an essential part of who we are.”
Carlson and Palkert said while discussions will be a central part of the Interfaith Youth Core at Dominican, students will be encouraged to carry out a service component. This year, they’ll focus on hunger as a global and local social concern.
"We survey the freshmen when they walk in the door," Carlson said. "There's an uptick in the expectation that when they come to college, they expect to be in a place of real engagement with others. Our job is to deliver."