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CSC tackles interfaith dialogue through new faith development training

| Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Notre Dame Center for Social Concerns (CSC) plans to tackle diverse dialogue head-on, offering a brand-new interfaith leadership program aimed at providing training to students interested in faith development and religious cooperation. The initiative, called Better Together ND, aims to bring students from the tri-campus community together from all types of faith backgrounds, including those who are non-religious, in hopes of improving conversation and eliminating barriers among religious and non-religious students.

Melissa Marley Bonnichsen, the CSC’s director for leadership formation, said she is excited for the rollout of the program Sept. 13.

“What excites me the most is the possibility of just getting a whole bunch of people together monthly over meals and understanding the power of diverse populations in shifting the culture on campuses,” Bonnichsen said.

The program consists of a variety of workshop trainings, ranging in topics from building relational power, storytelling, peaceful dialogue and engaging allyship. Students will also share monthly meals to build relationships among people of different faiths or non-faith backgrounds.

Bonnichsen said the idea and realization for this type of interfaith training came from attending conferences, engaging with student government and receiving a grant from Lilly Foundation through InterFaith Youth Core (IFYC), an organization that works with universities across the country.

“There was thought from IFYC that Notre Dame should petition for a grant,” Bonnichsen said. “So I decided to pitch for a project called Better Together ND and with that, create space for people to get together for interfaith cooperation.”

Sophomore Meenu Selvan, Notre Dame student government’s director of faith and service, worked on creating this interfaith leadership curriculum and said the initiative will have “workshops to learn about blind spots,” with the goal of dialogue among students different from each other. (Editor’s Note: James Broderick is co-director of FUEL for Notre Dame student government.)

Selvan also said such programs have a strong reputation throughout the country, and have shown to be effective at achieving their goals.

“The program adopted curriculum from the Institute for Interfaith Leadership, and they have worked with the government on interfaith programming, including with former President Barack Obama,” Selvan said.

Sophomore Christoper Zahn, who comes from a Lutheran family, a minority among Notre Dame’s majority Catholic student body, said he believes Notre Dame’s atmosphere for people of non-Catholic or non-religious faiths is good but can be improved.

“I have loved my time at Notre Dame so far and have never felt out of place due to my religious background,” Zahn said. “Yet I think that Notre Dame can be so much better, and I am excited to see offerings such as Better Together ND, a definitive step in the right direction.”

The program is open to all students who seek interfaith cooperation, leadership development and meal-sharing opportunities throughout a semester or an entire academic year. There is a final information meeting Wednesday in the McNeil Library in Geddes Hall at 5:30 p.m.

Bonnichsen said everyone has a perspective that can benefit others.

“Even though we are a predominantly Catholic and Christian campus, what faith looks like is different and everyone has so much to bring as an asset to the table,” Bonnichsen said.

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