May 22, 2014

Georgetown Deepens Commitment to Interfaith Cooperation

In 2011, President Barack Obama launched the Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Sponsored by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the U.S. Department of Education, the challenge encourages colleges and universities around the United States to promote interfaith dialogue and community service on their campuses. In September 2013, 400 students from nearly 130 universities attended Georgetown’s conference, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan gave closing remarks.

Institutional Commitment to Interfaith Understanding

Georgetown has actively participated in the President’s Interfaith Challenge since its inception in March 2011. Having chosen to focus its service efforts around poverty and education, Georgetown’s participation in the White House challenge has deepened partnerships among units on campus, including Campus Ministry, the Center for Social Justice, the Office of the President, and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Since the fall 2011 semester, students, staff, and faculty from these departments have convened regularly for Interfaith Challenge Roundtable discussions to share personal stories, reflections, and best practices for interfaith dialogue and service. Commenting on this university-wide spirit of solidarity, Georgetown president John J. DeGioia said, “At our core we are committed to dialogue and to engagement with one another. Together as communities of teachers and learners we…work through our questions, our challenges and our disagreements. We come to this from different faiths, different traditions. But we come together, and converge, in this common pursuit.”

Interfaith Collaboration

Georgetown has had many successes in promoting interfaith cooperation, and some students are taking it further by reaching out to non-Abrahamic communities. In April 2012, former president of the Georgetown Interfaith Students Association Aamir Hussain (C’14) launched Georgetown’s Islam-Hinduism dialogue. The program, called “Shanti and Salaam,” has enjoyed large support from leaders of the Hindu and Muslim Student Associations and now occurs every year. Hussain writes, “My identity put me in a unique position to facilitate such a dialogue; my family is Indian and Muslim, and we are often viewed as the cultural bridge between many Indians and the diverse Muslim community.”

As Georgetown participates in the third year of the President’s Interfaith Challenge, university officials seek to facilitate greater communication between the various departments engaged in interfaith dialogue and service. Knight of Columbus Kieran Halloran (SFS’14) says, “Georgetown's leadership in interfaith service work across the country is something that I am happy to be a part of. It is great to be able to share all of the success we as a university have had joining together as an interfaith community in the service of others.”

Students Engaged in Service

Georgetown students have also been instrumental in leading the university’s interfaith and service efforts. Sohale Sizar (C’14) has founded a literacy initiative called Bring on the Books, which collects donations of children’s books from college students and delivers them to underserved children in Washington, D.C. In 2013, the drive collected 3,300 books, 2,300 more than the 2012 goal. Hoping to raise over 3,500 books this year, Sizar writes, “We may be different from one another, but at the end of the day, we are bound together by a single bond, under a single light.”

Other major service initiatives at Georgetown have included a canned food drive in partnership with historic basketball rival Syracuse University, a weekly interfaith sandwich-making program for the homeless, and numerous tutoring programs in science, English, and math for students in D.C. public schools. The university also offers community-based learning classes that incorporate community service into the curricula. These courses are inspired by Georgetown’s Jesuit heritage, which emphasizes both academic excellence and applying one’s knowledge in service to others.