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New multifaith club aims to open up religious dialogue on campus

Multifaith at Mills, otherwise known as M2, is a new club on campus, created as a way to share faith among members of the Mills community and, eventually, make for a more accessible campus as a whole, according to Rev. Laura Engelken, the Director of Spiritual and Religious Life (SRL) at Mills.

“It’s a comfortable space to discover our own faith meaning and get the strength to live our lives around that faith,” Engelken said.

Co-President of M2 Lauren Bartlett said the club began in the spring as a group called Interfaith Youth Coalition, which was inspired by the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) Conference in Berkeley last February. The IFYC is a nonprofit organization that fosters religious social justice, and its Conference was attended by more than a dozen Mills students, a few faculty members and Engelken. The conference sparked a discussion among the Mills attendees about spiritual values in connection with social justice on campus and how a club could create a dialogue about experiences surrounding religion, according to Bartlett.

As the Interfaith Youth Coalition transitioned into a full-blown club, founding members chose the current name, M2, with the hope that it will become something people will remember.

Bartlett said Mills was a great place to explore identity, especially in regards to race and gender, but she and some other M2 members feel religion is still an uncomfortable topic. Bartlett believes M2 presents an opportunity to change that.

“It allows space for all aspects of my identity to be represented on campus,” Bartlett said.

The club aims to a start a ripple effect within the Mills community, according to Engelken. Ideally, she and members of the club want the Mills campus to have a more open environment where various religious and spiritual beliefs can be shared, free from judgment and negative reactions. Engleken said people should be aware that spiritual and religious life happens all over the place, not just within the walls of the Chapel.

“It’s about people being able to share honestly. We’re human; we are going to have misunderstandings,” Engelken said. “We can have a mutual respect for people even if we differ on beliefs or have disagreements within our discussions.”

Meetings are held on the first Wednesday of every month from 5:30-7 p.m. in the Mills College Chapel. At each meeting, Ana Sanchez, whose unofficial title is “Minister of Food”, prepares food for the attendees.

In addition to these meetings, the club plans to have excursions — or “field trips” as Engelken likes to call them — every month. Engelken said the activities are intended to explore the beliefs and practices of various groups. Two options that were discussed last meeting were attending church masses and ceremonial events.

Engelken said the club also plans to promote special events, such as the Festival of Light and Dark in December, which is a celebration of all faiths and spiritualities among the different religious holidays.

“Folks are empowered to really acknowledge that their understandings of religions and their various practices are important. M2 builds a community around that,” Engelken said. “My hope is to create multiple places where these conversations can take place.”

Rebecca Freeman, co-President of M2, follows the Roman Catholic faith and is a self-labeled Irish Catholic. She joined M2 for the opportunity to be part of an enriching community and to have the ability to learn and grow, especially in her faith.

“We want students to feel loved and welcomed,” Freeman said. “This is a space to be whatever you need it to be, wherever you are on your faith journey.”

The next meeting will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 2, and Freeman encourages all students to join the club community.

Engelken said she is thankful to have an actively informed group of students to help manage the club.

“I wanted to do something with the students rather than on behalf of them,” Engelken said. “(M2) is a space to be empowered, to share faith, as opposed to orchestrating it.”