Banding Together for Tolerance
Students Embrace Religious Diversity
On April 16, two students, two staff members, a community member, and religious studies professor Kate McCarthy sat together in the lobby of the Student Services Center, making signs that in bold lettering declared messages of tolerance: “My God loves everyone,” one read. “Tolerance of intolerance is cowardice,” read another.
The sign-making event, put on by the newly formed Religious Diversity Association (RDA), was spurred by the campus community’s desire to respond in a productive way to those who come to Chico State proffering a different message about religion. The preachers who stand in Trinity Commons, loudly and aggressively exercising their right to free speech, often create a kind of “spectacle of religious intolerance,” says McCarthy, the RDA’s advisor.
“The students wanted to respond in a different way that was informed by different religious faiths, not just an anti-religion stance,” McCarthy says. “To stand in witness to other religious perspectives, so this doesn't’t get to stand for what religion is.”
The signs will be stored in a yet-to-be-determined place on campus so they can be easily accessed by anyone who wishes to silently protest the rhetoric of the “angry preachers.”
This event is just one initiative the RDA has taken since fall to make religion a bigger part of Chico State’s diversity and inclusion efforts.
“Chico State does value diversity, and I think we’re doing a great job working it into the curriculum and student programming,” McCarthy says, “but I think religion is a piece of that that we need to talk more about.”
The RDA was formed after McCarthy and four students traveled to Chicago last summer to attend the Interfaith Leadership Institute. The event was put on by the Interfaith Youth Core, an organization founded in 2002 by Eboo Patel, an author and member of President Barack Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships. The purpose of Patel’s group is to promote “appreciative knowledge of diverse religious traditions and philosophical perspectives, meaningful encounters between people of different faith and philosophical backgrounds, and common action projects between people of different backgrounds.”
The students participated in an intensive three days of lectures, workshops, and practical skill-building activities aimed at creating plans for effective interfaith action. The framework for the training is the Better Together campaign, a student-led set of campus and community events in which religiously diverse students work together to voice their identities, engage with others who are religiously different, and act together on shared values to make a positive impact on issues important to their campus communities. By the end of the institute, each campus had developed a plan for its own Better Together campaign for 2012–2013.
“Chico State does value diversity, and I think we’re doing a great job working it into the curriculum and student programming, but I think religion is a piece of that that we need to talk more about.” -Kate McCarthy, Religious Studies
McCarthy and her students also identified four priorities for the year that they believe will promote respect for religious diversity and cooperation across religious lines at Chico State, which included forming the RDA, participating in the federal President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, and putting on the first Better Together event, called Unexpected Identities.
For the Unexpected Identities project, which is currently in progress, the RDA is inviting students, faculty, and staff to get their pictures taken while holding up a statement that reveals an unexpected aspect of their identity. Images created so far included statements such as “I am Catholic, and I’m also pro-choice.” Ultimately their goal is to use these images to make a giant collage to represent another type of diversity at Chico State.
So far the campus community’s response to the RDA’s efforts has been positive, but as with any group, the challenge is motivating people to find the time in their busy schedules to get involved. The student leaders have found that they need to come up with specific, focused events and activities so people can know what they’re committing to. In the coming year, the focus will be on reaching out to existing religious groups and coming up with activities that will bring them into contact, such as a panel discussion with representatives from each of the religious student groups on campus.
“People are enthused about what we’re doing but not enthused enough to get involved just yet,” says Kaylee Dixon, vice president of the RDA and a religious studies major. “We understand people are busy, but it’s breaking that initial ice that’s our problem right now. These efforts are needed on our campus. The more people, the more students, the better.”
—Kacey Gardner, editorial assistant, Public Affairs and Publications