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USAC office to host forum promoting interfaith communication

By Isabella Welch

Nov. 15, 2016 11:10 p.m.

An undergraduate student government office will meet with student groups Thursday to discuss ways they can encourage interfaith connection on campus.

USAC members, representatives from the University Religious Conference and student organizations will hold a public forum Thursday from 6 to 7 p.m. in Kerckhoff 417 to get feedback from students.

The USAC Representative 2 office will begin working on a project next quarter to promote more communication between different spiritual groups on campus, said general representative Ruchit Majmudar. However, they have not decided what the project will be.

At the forum, students will be able to give feedback on the types of programs they want, such as student conferences promoting interfaith dialogue or a physical space for students to meditate and reflect in.

Majmudar announced in October that he met with the URC to discuss creating a space on campus for spiritual activities. The office originally announced its idea to increase interfaith activities this summer and the project has been in the planning stages since then, he said

Project organizers have experienced some delays because they wanted to reach out to as many student groups as possible and ensure the project will be sustainable in the long run, General Representative Two Director of Outreach Ayesha Haleem said. The office is gathering student input before they decide on a goal.

“We are going to ask the students what they want, whether it’s a conference, a physical space or a program,” Majmudar said.

Haleem said she thinks it is important to create programs that bring different groups together rather than divide them. She added that such a project is especially important after the recent presidential election, which resulted in various student protests.

Majmudar said the idea for the project started with a student trip to Chicago, sponsored by the URC.

[Related: Donation to help further interfaith discussion on campus]

“Participants talked about how we can take the campus climate right now – which is not that welcoming toward certain groups of students – and work to bring students together,” he said.

The office will take the information gathered from the surveys and meetings and work on a concrete plan starting next quarter, Haleem said.

The URC will provide funding for the project, but the exact costs have not been determined yet, Haleem said. The URC sold their building last spring and will use some of the funds from the sale for this project.

[Related: University Religious Conference to sell Hilgard Avenue property]

Students said they were unsure about the idea but think it could help some students feel more welcomed.

Noemi Ruelas, a third-year psychology student, said she thinks it is hard to say whether the project is actually needed on campus.

“I feel like I could find (a spiritual program) somewhere else, I don’t need it necessarily on campus,” Ruelas said. “I’ve found that sort of thing through different classes I’ve taken, but I think it could be a positive thing for students that don’t have that already. It could serve as a safe space.”

Other students think the idea is a much-needed addition.

Sumana Kaluvai, a second-year chemical engineering student, said she thinks a project to bring students of different religious and spiritual backgrounds together is a good idea because everyone deserves a safe place, especially due to recent events.

“It’s sad that we don’t already have a space or program like this,” Kaluvai added. “There is the space on the third floor of Ackerman, but it’s not utilized very well. I think it has to be a physical space (and) I don’t think people would go to a conference.”

So far, the office of the general representative has invited groups such as Prism, the Muslim Student Association, the Sikh Student Association and Hillel to participate in the planning of the project, Haleem said.


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Isabella Welch
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