Guest post by Davidson senior and IFYC Fellow, Kaela Frank.
Before I came to Davidson I spent a year living in Israel exploring my Jewish roots. I was raised Jewish in a small, predominantly Catholic town in southern Maine by a Jewish mother and a Catholic father. Feeling somewhat confused about my religious identity and longing for a community of acceptance, I began my spiritual journey in Israel, but I quickly found that I did not fit in among the Orthodox religious establishment nor among the secular Jewish nationalists. While living in Jerusalem, I was surrounded by diversity but not pluralism. I saw communities living beside each other, but not amongst one another. While I was excited by the diversity of religious traditions thriving in Jerusalem, it was disheartening to find that there was relatively little cooperation between them, despite many of the values they hold in common.
I was nervous when I first came to Davidson. If I didn’t fit in as a Jew in a predominantly Jewish country, how would I fit in at a Presbyterian college? My fears quickly subsided as I found that at Davidson, I am accepted for exactly who I am, with all my confusions and contradictions, that I am welcomed into the community, and that I have a lot to learn from others, but I also have a lot to share myself. My life has been enriched by the conversations and experiences with my fellow classmates, which have both challenged and strengthened my own beliefs. Davidson is a place that welcomes spiritual growth, diversity and dialogue, and for that, I am blessed.
Over the course of my four years at Davidson, I have kept my experiences from Jerusalem with me. I have noticed that while we have diversity present, we have a lack of interaction among groups, especially those celebrating religious life. I have noticed a divide between secular and religious students, but also a divide between different religious groups. While most people are open and accepting on the individual level, we tend to stick to what is familiar and comfortable. We need more cooperation and collaboration across religious, ethnic, sexual, racial, gender, and socio-economic divides, based on shared values—recognition that each one of us brings something unique to the Davidson community and that we are better off if we share it and utilize it to make this community better.
This year I began working with Interfaith Youth Core, a non-profit organization that empowers student leaders to strengthen interfaith cooperation on their campuses. Interfaith, does not mean abandoning one’s faith, having no faith, or believing in all faiths. Interfaith and religious pluralism are about respecting one another’s religious or secular identity, building positive, mutually-inspiring relationships, and working together to make our world a better place.
The Better Together campaign is a student-led effort to bring together members of the Davidson community from all faiths and traditions for common action for the common good. When I envision religious pluralism at Davidson I imagine groups like Hillel, RUF, CCM, MSA, InterVarsity, and the Secular Students Society working together on a common service project, but more importantly, I see Jews, Catholics, Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Sikhs, Atheists, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, Hindus, Methodists, Agnostics, Buddhists, Episcopalians, and Spiritual seekers connecting, sharing, learning, growing and building a better future together.
With the opening of the Multicultural House earlier this semester, Davidson reaffirmed its commitment to diversity and inclusivity. Respect for religious diversity is included in that contract, but I challenge us all to go beyond that. Every person has their own unique perspective to share, their own values which guide them and their own faith which they hold true. May we begin to understand the beauty of diversity by working together in the service of others.
We came together at the What If? Speak-In to share stories, over a shared meal, and to talk about our faith and values which call us to action. More importantly, we came together to ask each other, what if? What if members of the Davidson community from all faiths and traditions, came together to help house the homeless during the cold winter months? During the spring semester, Better Together at Davidson will be partnering with the student group E.P.I.C. (Ending Poverty in Charlotte) to volunteer at Room in the Inn. This is an opportunity for us to learn from one another, and to work in the service of others based on our shared values. I hope that this experience will be just a starting point for further cooperation and collaboration at Davidson College.