WASHINGTON, DC (August 10, 2011) – Leaders from North Park University joined representatives of other higher education institutions and representatives of the Obama administration August 3 for the kickoff of the President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.
North Park is one of nearly 250 colleges and universities in the United States participating in the challenge, aimed at strengthening communities through service and uniting people across lines of faith through dialogue and understanding. The challenge is an initiative of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. North Park was represented at the inaugural event by David L. Parkyn, president; Joseph Jones, provost; and Terry Lindsay, dean of diversity and intercultural programs.
North Park University, located in the center of Chicago’s diverse Albany Park neighborhood, has promoted community service and interfaith understanding for decades, Parkyn notes. “This fits North Park so well because we come out of a faith tradition that is committed to compassion, mercy, and justice. We are located in a city where people and expressions of faith come together.”
Cooperating with other institutions to promote interfaith dialogue is important, said Parkyn. “You talk about your faith because you ask each other what motivates you to do service.”
Reflecting on the challenge, Jones said North Park students who articulate their own faith need to understand other faiths as well. “The educated person of the 21st Century should have a good understanding of people of other faiths if we are called to love our neighbor and work for the common good,” he said. “The challenge is for the universities and faith communities to come together to work for issues in their own communities.”
When he announced the challenge earlier this year, President Obama called on institutions of higher education to commit to advancing interfaith and community service initiatives over the course of the 2011-2012 academic year. Beyond that, each participating institution should consider how to sustain the challenge’s momentum beyond one year, Parkyn said.
In its proposal, North Park University said it planned to expand two existing campus-wide service opportunities to include people from different faith traditions. These include “Vikings Kids Day” that pairs North Park students with young children for a day of “friendship, food, fun, and football,” and North Park Community Service Day, in which students, faculty, staff, and alumni develop relationships to facilitate volunteer service projects with various community partners.
The university is also planning specific events this year to promote interfaith engagement. North Park has planned an event commemorating the tenth anniversary of 9/11 as a way of honoring Christians and Muslims for Thursday, September 15; a workshop and film presentation, “Fostering Christian-Muslim Relationships,” during the Student Diversity Leadership Conference on October 28; a panel of three Chicago-area women who promote, support, and lead interfaith dialogue on November 14; a panel discussion on relationships between faith communities and health practices and beliefs; and a health fair to reach out to people in Albany Park with area partners such as Compassionate Care and Swedish Covenant Hospital.
North Park identified several university departments as integral to its participation in the President’s Challenge, including the Office of Diversity, School of Nursing, University Ministries, the Department of Biblical and Theological Studies, and the School of Adult Learning. North Park student organizations that are expected to participate actively in the challenge are the African Students Club, Black Student Association, East Asian Student Association, Latin American Student Association, Middle Eastern Student Association, and the South Asian Student Association.
A mix of participating college and universities were represented at the challenge’s kickoff, including community colleges, Christian colleges and universities, public and private research universities, and liberal arts schools.
“The thing that was really refreshing was that there were 250 colleges and universities from around the country interested in doing this important work,” Lindsay said. “I was really pleased with the diversity of the institutions and the quality of the institutions.”
Participants heard from key Obama administration leaders, such as Joshua Dubois, special assistant to the President and executive director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. University leaders were told of 13 different departments in the federal government that maintain similar offices that can serve as resources, Jones added.