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Mills students join interfaith dialogue at UC Berkeley conference

Laura Engelken and students create a poster at the Interfaith conference on Feb. 12th and 13th. (Tymeesa Rutledge)

As part of its mission to attempt to increase awareness of different religions and faiths on campus, Mills’ Student Diversity Program (SDP) attended the first Interfaith Leadership Conference held in the Bay Area on February 12th and 13th at UC Berkeley. The event, hosted by Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) is one way SDP hopes to address religious and spiritual identity on campus, a goal it set for the Spring Semester.
Fifteen students and 3 staff members from Mills College were in attendance along side students and faculty from UC Davis, USF, and Santa Clara University.

Those in attendance were of many faiths, such as Catholic, Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Baptist, Evangelical, Buddhist and atheist.

The Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago based non-profit, is an institute that trains youth of diverse faiths or atheism to work together on social justice issues.

IFYC started the national campaign, Better Together, where college students work together on social justice causes both locally and globally. The Better Together campaign has been instated at 72 college campuses with 1,636 attendees at its conferences and with 16 social action issues, according to the program’s website.

The Interfaith Youth Core received a $60,000 grant from the Walter and Elise Haas Fund to fund interfaith work within the San Francisco Bay Area.

The grant started in July of 2010 and will be in effect until July of this year. It was this grant that allowed IFYC to host the Interfaith conference at Berkeley.

“I joined (the Interfaith Youth Core) because I care about social justice and want to see a massive change in the world,” said IFYC Campus Engagement Associate Hafsa Arain who worked at the conference as one of the trainers. “We can be better.”

One of the Mills staff in attendance at the Interfaith conference was the newly appointed Director of Spiritual and Religious Life Laura Engelken.

“My goal was to get a sense of where folks’ (Mills students) energy was around interfaith dialogue on campus,” Engelken said. “(And to) get a chance to know (Mills students). Both of my expectations were met.”

Sabrina Kwist, the Associate Director of Student Diversity Programs at Mills College, explained at the event students were able to reflect on social justice and to discuss
religious oppression.

“For me, the memory I will walk away with is the image of Mills leaders strategizing during their conference lunch break on how they want to make Mills and the greater community better,” she said.

Mills students that attended the Interfaith Conference discussed their feelings about their personal faith on campus at the conference.

“(This is) the first time since I’ve been at Mills (that) I’ve said I am a Christian,” said Mills senior Ciera Cummings while at the Interfaith Leadership Conference.

Another Mills student, sophomore Maria Mejia, agreed with Cummings. She said she has felt uncomfortable about discussing her Catholic faith with others at Mills.

“How can you say, I’m proud of a religion that has been oppressive,’” said Mejia.

Mills graduate student, Adriana Hutchinson, talked about Interfaith work, during the conference, and acceptance of one’s faith while not judging other people’s beliefs.

“I’m very lucky to go to a church that is very social justice oriented…I can’t judge anybody for where they are or what they believe,” said Hutchinson.