Press Release

Chicago Interfaith Leadership Institute: Concerned Students and Educators Gather to Learn to Interrupt Religious Conflict on Campus

For Immediate Release
Chicago – August 2017

Last year, issues of identity and difference roiled colleges and universities across the country. In the wake of an election cycle typified by incivility and alarmingly divisive rhetoric, colleges witnessed a rise in anti-Semitic and Islamophobic acts, with the Southern Poverty Law Center chronicling 330 hate instances on campuses between November 9 and March 31. Alongside these troubling trends, a series of high-profile cases have shown that the actions that campuses take to address divisions related to diversity carry potentially enormous consequences. Now, as students and educators prepare to return for the fall, they are facing what is certain to be another challenging year and seeking strategies to address a tense climate back on campus.

“This moment in our country seems to be defined by conflict and staunch differences. And college campuses are a microcosm of that reality, with frustrations and biases bubbling to the surface. One issue at the center is religious difference. Through the Interfaith Leadership Institute, IFYC provides emerging leaders with the tools they need to find solutions to difficult conflicts and create pluralistic communities at a time when they are desperately needed,” said Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC).

At the Chicago Interfaith Leadership Institute (ILI) Friday, August 11 - Sunday, August 13, 2017, IFYC is hosting more than 300 concerned students and 100 of their administrator and faculty allies, who are seeking to create a blueprint for meaningful interfaith engagement at their institutions. Coming from 115 colleges and universities across the country, participants will learn how to build spaces where people can engage deep difference and create strategies to make interfaith cooperation a normal part of the college experience. For some, this may be the first time they meaningfully encounter a person that identifies with a minority tradition, for others it will be a time to connect with like-minded peers and establish a set of skills that will guide them in college and beyond. All participants share an understanding that they have a vital role to play in ensuring religious pluralism’s continued value in our diverse democracy.

Attendees will choose a specific focus area for the weekend, such as:

  • Tackling Challenging Conversations, teaching students how to overcome moments when difference seems insurmountable, build relationships and gain resilience for long-term interfaith work.
  • Interfaith Beyond Graduation, exploring what it looks like for students to think beyond school and communicate their values in professional and community contexts such as business, healthcare, government and civic participation.
  • Facilitating Interfaith Workshops, providing university administrators and faculty with approaches and resources for facilitating interfaith trainings and workshops on their campuses to make interfaith encounters a more common part of the college experience.

This year, Brett Banks, a senior at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, will be attending his second ILI. “Recently, McMurry began an international program that brought a lot of students from Saudi Arabia and China to the school. Those students also brought many religious and non-religious traditions in numbers that McMurry had never seen before. It created unforeseen challenges and struggles,” said Banks. “To help overcome them, the university sent a group of students to an ILI last spring and it was an amazing experience. At the ILI we put together a plan to create a student group that held a day-long event where all students on campus could learn more about each other’s faith identities and shared values.”

Students and educators will be working together throughout the weekend to map their campus issues to clear strategies and tactics for interfaith engagement. Trainings are facilitated by IFYC experts. Workshops and collaborative sessions will bring attendees together to share their experiences and exchange effective practices from the wider field of campus interfaith work. Attendees will also hear keynotes from Eboo Patel and Vanessa Zoltan, Assistant Humanist Chaplain at Harvard University and co-host of the popular Harry Potter and the Sacred Text podcast, whose explorations of common questions of meaning between religious and non-religious millennials was recently featured in The Washington Post.


Chicago Interfaith Leadership Institute
Friday, August 11 – Sunday, August 13, 2017
Hyatt Regency Chicago
A full schedule can be found here.

Members of the media are invited to attend the ILI to get a firsthand view of trainings, conversations, keynotes and other activities.

Nasser Asif
Director, Marketing & Communications
Interfaith Youth Core

About IFYC:

IFYC is working towards an America where people of different faiths, worldviews and traditions can bridge differences and find common values to build a shared life together. IFYC believes this starts in colleges and universities, where the complex ideas that will shape our country’s future are defined. IFYC engages with leaders across the campus environment — faculty, staff, administrators and students — and offers the tools, guidance and networks needed to bring interfaith learning into their campuses, classrooms, research and lives. IFYC was founded in 2002, is based in Chicago and works with more than 300 campuses in the United States.

About Eboo Patel:

Eboo Patel founded Interfaith Youth Core on the idea that religion should be a bridge of cooperation rather than a barrier of division. He is inspired to build this bridge by his identity as an American Muslim navigating a highly religiously diverse social landscape. Mr. Patel served on President Obama’s Inaugural Faith Council and is the author of Acts of Faith, Sacred Ground and Interfaith Leadership: A Primer. He holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes scholarship.

About Vanessa Zoltan:

Vanessa Zoltan is the co-host of the podcast, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. She is also a research assistant at Harvard Divinity School. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in English literature and writing from Washington University in St. Louis, her master’s of science in nonprofit management from the University of Pennsylvania and her master’s of divinity from Harvard Divinity School in 2015. She is working on a book about treating Harry Potter as a sacred text.

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