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Interfaith Living Learning Community prepares to welcome first residents in fall

Pictured is De Neve Plaza a student residential space. De Neve Acacia will house the new Interfaith Living Learning Community beginning in the fall. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Constanza Montemayor

June 4, 2022 5:58 p.m.

This post was updated June 5 at 2:50 p.m.

Starting in the fall, students will have the opportunity to reside in a Living Learning Community centered around an interfaith community.

The University Religious Conference Interfaith Student Chaplains at UCLA – an inter-religious group of students working to promote interfaith relations and events – worked to create the Interfaith LLC, said Abigail Johnson, the interim assistant director of academics and first-year experience for UCLA Residential Life. She said the LLC will occupy the third floor of De Neve Acacia, housing just under 40 students.

The community is open to all students regardless of faith or spiritual practice, those actively practicing, as well as agnostic, nonpracticing or atheist students are all welcome.

Planning for the LLC first began with interfaith student chaplain Naomi Moskowitz, Johnson added. Moskowitz, a fourth-year Arabic language and culture and cognitive science student, said she first contacted Johnson with the idea in October 2020. Although multiple student groups had proposed a concept for a faith-based LLC in years past, they usually aimed to center one particular religion and lacked the support and diversity needed to launch the project, Johnson said. First-year pre-business economics student Pedro Ochoa will be the Interfaith LLC’s first resident assistant.

Moskowitz, who is Jewish, said she was inspired to reach out to UCLA about the idea after hearing about the connections that a late friend formed as a resident of UC Davis’ Multifaith Living Community. He, a Jewish student, and his two Muslim roommates had been able to foster closeness despite their differences, conversing about topics such as God and spirituality, she said.

“I was really inspired to take initiative and actually make something happen at UCLA because this sounded like such a incredible program that all the students at UC Davis were benefiting from and would be a really great way to honor my friend,” Moskowitz said.

Johnson soon connected Moskowitz with the URC, whose student chaplains were already in the process of developing a one-unit Fiat Lux class to discuss interfaith relations, Moskowitz added. The chaplains – who are student representatives of a variety of religious organizations on campus and their different faiths, including Judaism, Islam, Christianity and Sikhism – were interested in helping to draft the Interfaith LLC application, said Moskowitz, who became a URC student chaplain herself this year.

Casey Crouch, a fourth-year political science student that works with the URC, was among the group that helped draft the LLC’s application. Religious students can sometimes lack a welcoming space and may face social stigma when practicing – issues the Interfaith LLC could help alleviate, said Crouch, who is also the former co-president of the Academy for Judaic, Christian, and Islamic Studies, a nonprofit with the aim of fostering cooperation and understanding between Jews, Christians and Muslims.

They are hoping to eventually integrate the URC’s planned Fiat Lux class into the suggested programming for residents of the LLC, as a goal of the floor is to promote interfaith literacy, Crouch said.

“Interfaith literacy is a concept I really like, which describes one’s ability or one’s knowledge of other traditions and then one’s ability to use that knowledge just in daily life and to have a better understanding of other people and to hopefully facilitate good actions in society,” he said. “It can kind of support UCLA’s mission towards emphasizing diverse points of view.”

Moskowitz said that while planning the details of the LLC, she reached out to multiple student religious organizations, including the Muslim Student Association and Hillel at UCLA. She also spread word of the new LLC to interested students and sought input from individual students on what they may need from the floor, she added.

In their feedback, students hoped to find a community that would allow them to practice their faith comfortably, Moskowitz said, adding that Muslim students shared they would like a space to pray and to wash their hands and feet before prayer. Jewish students hoped to find roommates that would understand why they might not use lights or electricity on Saturdays to observe the Sabbath or find other students who would celebrate holidays with them, she added.

Johnson said she was looking forward to the conversations and respect that students could develop among fellow residents from different backgrounds.

“In this age of political divide and just ideological divide, I’m really excited to see how this community comes together to support one another and address some of those issues,” Johnson said.

Ochoa, who is currently part of the First to Go LLC – which provides a residential community for first-generation college students – said he was looking forward to being a part of a space dedicated to the discussion and practice of religion across students of different backgrounds. Openly discussing or practicing religion at UCLA can feel intimidating, as many students are not very religious, he added.

Having grown up going to Jewish day schools and celebrating Jewish holidays, Moskowitz said coming to UCLA was a big transition. In her freshman year, she did not know many other Jewish students and, at one point, did not realize a Jewish holiday had passed until the end of the day, she added.

Ochoa, who is Roman Catholic, said he enjoys practicing his religion in ways such as giving up meat consumption for Lent and going to church. He hopes to create a space where students of any faith will feel free to share and conduct their religious practices and beliefs, he said.

“I want to make sure that I provide a safe environment where others can speak about what they believe in and no one’s judging just the way that they believe,” Ochoa said.

Moskowitz said she has been meeting with Johnson over Zoom to plan the LLC’s programming over the past year. The LLC plans to incorporate community volunteering events and once-a-quarter field trips to faith-related locations such as synagogues and temples into its event schedule, she said. For the end-of-year event – a tradition of all LLCs – Moskowitz said the organizers of the Interfaith LLC are considering hosting a volunteer fair in which students outside of the LLC would be invited to participate.

They also plan to create weekly discussions with questions about different life topics in the LLC lounge as well as celebrate the holidays of different religions, Moskowitz said.

“Every holiday for any religion, we’re planning there to be decorations in the lounge, food in the lounge, a big calendar of everything that’s happening that month, so no one ever goes feeling there was a special day for them that went past … and no one else recognized it while their family at home was celebrating it,” she said.

Moskowitz said she plans to spend much of her time next year in the LLC and is particularly looking forward to celebrating the Jewish holiday of Purim, for which she plans to bake traditional cookies to share with the students on the floor.

“It feels like religion isn’t really one of those identities that’s being given those resources at UCLA and being uplifted in the same sense that other identities are, so I’m really hoping that this community changes that,” she said.

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Constanza Montemayor | News senior staff
Montemayor is a News senior staff reporter for the Bruin. She was previously the 2022-2023 News editor, the 2021-2022 features and student life editor, a News reporter, Photo contributor for the news beat and Arts contributor. She is also a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
Montemayor is a News senior staff reporter for the Bruin. She was previously the 2022-2023 News editor, the 2021-2022 features and student life editor, a News reporter, Photo contributor for the news beat and Arts contributor. She is also a fourth-year global studies student at UCLA.
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