College campuses create a unique hub, students, professors and faculty coming together from many different locations and backgrounds, each playing their role to help foster an environment which might be conducive to personal and communal growth. Yet, for this to happen at its best, each individual must be able to come as their full self, not feeling constrained to only exhibiting “desirable” characteristics or, even worse, manipulating themselves to be someone they are not.
For everyone to be fully present in their own skin and flesh, it is just as much a responsibility of the community to create an environment which promotes welcoming over exclusion. This is something which, more often than not, does not come about passively but, rather, must be acted upon.
Here, at a Mennonite institution, groups have been meeting for years, making policy changes, assembling groups, clubs and coalitions, all in the name of creating such communities, striving to replace exclusion with inclusion. Yet, this begs the question: what are we as individuals, perhaps neighbors, doing to move this work forward?
Throughout the spring semester of 2021, I have had the opportunity to work alongside the Center for Interfaith Engagement and Campus Ministries as an Interfaith Pastoral Assistant (IPA), a newly formed extension of the Pastoral Assistant position.
While the Pastoral Assistant focuses more on the Christian student body, the IPA position serves as a bridge between Campus Ministries and the Center for Interfaith Engagement, focusing on facilitating interfaith engagement among the student body. This means promoting religious pluralism, creating an atmosphere on campus where students of all religious identities may feel welcome and represented.
During my time in this position, I was able to be a part of some conversations looking to make changes at a more institutional level, namely looking at creating a more religiously inclusive space in which are non-Mennonite or non-Christian members of campus, and perhaps the community, can feel more seen and heard.
Being able to take part in these meetings while also participating in the classroom and around campus as a student has helped me become more aware of what needs to be done at a more casual level. Despite what policies are in place, they will never have their full impact if the overall community is not acting in accord with them.
For genuine change to happen, it will be happening outside of scheduled meetings. Change is in a mundane sidewalk passing, choosing to say hello to someone who you might not know as a friend, or attending a new event, one which may be slightly outside of your comfort zone. It is here where new spaces and relationships are formed which may move us all forward together.