In the spring of 2019, Senior Fellows Zoe Robbin and Mariam Hassoun noticed that there were growing tensions at their university, Emory University, especially surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These tensions displayed how fragmented the student body was on the lines of religious and racial affiliation. Zoe and Mariam had a desire to heal the fragmented campus and hoped they could provide a space where students could meet a new friend, learn about a new perspective, and take part in a new experience.
Although they were each involved in religious programs and groups on campus, they noticed a lack of interfaith exchange to engage with others about their faith traditions. Zoe was involved with the Jewish community and participated in a Jewish learning fellowship during her senior year (the Maimonides Fellowship), while Mariam was involved in the Muslim Student Association. The desire to create interfaith dialogue and friendship inspired their Action Project, the “Interfaith Coalition Dinner Series.”
They decided to develop their Action Project by working with the Emory Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, putting together a team to work with starting in Fall 2019. Student leaders at Emory University participated in a training hosted by the Emory Office of Religious and Spiritual Life about how to structure discussions around shared values.
By the end, over 300 members of the Emory community attended at least one event of the “Interfaith Coalition Dinner Series”
During the project, the team worked with student leaders from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and secular on-campus spiritual and religious groups to host dinners. Student groups, such as the Muslim Student Association, Hillel, Hindu Student Association, Good Vibe Tribe, and Bread Coffee House, each hosted one event over a period of two months, from February through March 2020. By the end, over 300 members of the Emory community attended at least one event, with over 50 students attending two or more events.
“The energy I felt following conversations like those, with friends and strangers alike who accepted me for who I am, I will never forget.”
Mariam and Zoe learned to cultivate shared values when communicating with different student leaders. The impact of the event series extended beyond the participants to build a more inclusive and vibrant campus community.
The ICDS event at Bread coffeehouse became one of Mariam’s fondest memories as a student at Emory University. She had the chance to share perspectives with her peers, Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, over a Saba meal. She learned firsthand that they were unique in just as many ways as we were similar. She shares that “These conversations, with mostly people I’d never met before, spilled over far past the event’s end time. The energy I felt following conversations like those, with friends and strangers alike who accepted me for who I am, I will never forget.”
They encountered several logistical challenges along the way, which required flexibility and adaptation. However, the most challenging part of the project was creating a sustainable model. They hope that ICDS will become an annual series, but with COVID-19, it is unclear how its legacy will continue on campus. Despite the current challenges, they hope that the initiative is adopted by the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, or an independent campus group.