Panelists (L-R): Mary-Brett Koplen, Savas Kaya and Elizabeth Collins discuss interfaith opportunities in the community

Photographer: Katie Flaherty


Brian Bridges gives keynote address at Interfaith kickoff event

Photographer: Katie Flaherty

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White House Interfaith Challenge will unite community for year of service 

Vice Provost for Diversity, Access and Equity Brian Bridges hailed students initiative to get involved within the community during his keynote address for the official kickoff event of the White House Interfaith Challenge on Monday night.

The nationwide Interfaith Challenge, which was posed by President Barack Obama, is a yearlong commitment by colleges and universities to further interfaith cooperation and understanding in their communities by pledging to a year of service together. The schools with the best results will be invited to the White House for special recognition.

To participate in this challenge, United Campus Ministries (UCM) is partnering with Ohio University's Office of Diversity Access and Equity as well as Residence Life to serve the area in and around the Athens community.

"I have never worked at an institution where so many students take seriously their responsibility as a citizen of the world to leave it better than they found it," Bridges told the crowd.

The kickoff, which took place in the Baker University Center Ballroom, featured speakers from UCM and Residential Housing and concluded with an interfaith panel discussion led by UCM Reverend Evan Young. 

Bridges echoed President Obama's call to action by putting it into context for the university. 

"At Ohio University, this means a continual creation of space where students and everyone else involved from different backgrounds can have meaningful interactions by working together toward shared goals," Bridges said.

Following Bridges remarks, Assistant Director of Residential Housing Barb Harrison spoke of Resident Life's involvement in the challenge.

She explained that the housing staff is focused on providing opportunities for students to expand their spiritual growth. Current efforts include a partnership between local service organizations and residence halls on campus. Students from these halls will collaborate with their organization to complete service projects throughout the year.  

Executive Director for UCM Melissa Wales and her intern Rachel Hyden outlined the organization's mission and programs. The main focus was the Better Together Campaign, sponsored by the Interfaith Youth Core. The campaign, which was formed in response to President Obama's call for action, is concentrated on domestic poverty and the environment, with a special focus on water security. 

A student-produced video was shown outlining the campaign's aim to inspire people of all faiths to move past the discourse and take action together to improve their communities. Better Together events were outlined, including the Winter Quarter Water Campaign, which is an international-scaled project to raise $5,000 to build a well in a developing nation.

To conclude the kickoff, a diverse panel of University and Athens community faith leaders discussed their personal experiences confronting diversity on campus and around the world. Panelists included:

  • Mary-Brett Koplen, a senior English major in the Honors Tutorial College and senior intern for Ohio University's Hillel. Koplen leads the Center for Jewish Life's student programming and campus outreach.

  • Elizabeth Collins, professor of classic and world religions has conducted research in South and Southeast Asia, and has lived in India as well as Indonesia.

  • Amrit Singh, the Langston Hughes Professor of English and senior editor of Multi-Ethnic Literatures of the Americas Series.

  • Savas Kaya, Professor in the Russ College of Engineering at OU and adviser to the Muslim Student Association. 

After the panel discussion, Rev. Young closed by saying the campaign's framework has potential to bring people of all faiths together and "cross lines that have been so derisive for so long."

For more information about the Interfaith Challenge and the Better Together Campaign contact Rev. Young at 740-593-7301.