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GW Hosts Kickoff of New White House Initiative
August 01, 2011
GW community members will help launch the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge Aug. 3.
GW is a major player in the newest service initiative from the White House. On Aug. 3, the university will host the national kickoff of the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, a yearlong national initiative sponsored by the White House to promote interfaith dialogue and understanding through existing community service activities sponsored by colleges and universities.
President Barack Obama announced the initiative March 17 on the White House website.
“GW’s commitment to the values of interfaith dialogue and service, along with our ongoing engagement with a host of White House initiatives, have come together to put the university in the national spotlight with this challenge,” said Associate Director of Inclusion Initiatives Timothy Kane.
The kick-off will include workshops, a plenary session and reception held at GW and the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, and will involve approximately 400 representatives and 30 presidents from higher education institutions around the United States.
Members of the GW community are encouraged to attend the plenary session from 3 to 4:30 p.m. in GW’s Lisner Auditorium, which will include song and dance performances by GW students and a panel discussion about the challenge. The event will feature remarks from White House Director of Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes, Founder and President of Interfaith Youth Core Eboo Patel and Joshua DuBois, executive director of the White House’s Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
As the newly elected program director of GW's student Hindu awareness organization Satyam, Shivam Gosai said he and its members wants to become more involved with interfaith initiatives on campus. Mr. Gosai, along with Raneem Rajjoub, president of GW's Muslim Students’ Association, will be at the White House on Aug. 3 to meet with staff and learn how to best implement the initiative on campus “in order to be an effective interfaith service model for universities throughout the country.”
“As we have seen in the past year, youth groups and places of higher education are often the front runners of change for a nation,” he said. “Being in the nation's capital and at the forefront of everything political, I believe it is only very natural for GW to lead the nation in interfaith-service initiatives.”
While at GW, Ms. Rajjoub said she has met people from many faiths and has been "enriched by the variety of people’s backgrounds.”
“I believe that discovering similarities between people, rather than differences, will promote mutual understanding, respect and appreciation for one another,” she said.
Mr. Kane said the challenge’s mission is to promote interfaith cooperation and community service.
“Along with over 200 colleges and universities throughout the country, GW will recruit students, staff and faculty from diverse faith perspectives, including those who identify as agnostic or atheist, to participate side by side in community service activities, while reflecting on the value of service that exists across these faith traditions,” he said. “By getting to know people from diverse faith perspectives, members of the GW community will have the opportunity to enrich campus life one relationship at a time.”
Mr. Kane said that President Obama and GW President Steven Knapp discussed the challenge during President Obama’s last visit to campus in April, when the president unveiled his deficit reduction plan in GW’s Jack Morton Auditorium.
The White House asked the university to host the national kick-off for the challenge after Mr. Kane submitted a proposal on GW’s involvement, which he crafted with input from GW students, faculty and community partners engaged in interfaith issues.
“We hope that participants will come away with enhanced skills and inclination to engage others respectfully, especially others who may hold beliefs that differ from our own,” he said. “By being open to the richness of diversity that surrounds us here at GW and in D.C., we hope that participants in this challenge will be open to the endless possibilities of sharing and learning from one another.”
UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute recently released findings that show colleges and universities can play a critical role in developing a student’s spiritual and religious growth.
“As a result of this research and other emerging scholarship around spirituality, we recognized the value of exposing students to diverse people and cultures, particularly through interfaith activities, which help students shape their perspectives, grow and develop,” said Dean of Students Peter Konwerski. “Celebrating faith traditions are yet another way to expand our focus on diversity and inclusion and promoting interfaith dialogue.”
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