Ohio University’s Better Together Campaign thrived this year with students leading the 9-11 Interfaith Peace Walk, raising “a ton of food” for the SE Ohio Foodbank, participating in two watershed service-learning clean-up projects with interfaith reflection, organizing an interfaith panel on faith and violence, hosting the first Better Together Day (April 4) with a focus on interfaith movements for social change, in-service trainings to residential housing staff, and weekly participation in Interfaith Impact, Thursday Supper and Saturday Lunch. With the support of OU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, we were able to send two students, Olivia Bullock and Phil Morehead to the Interfaith Youth Core’s Interfaith Leadership Institute and will send two more this August. The campus and community interest in this kind of work just keeps growing and recent tragedies in Boston and elsewhere remind us of the urgent importance of building interfaith bridges. How is this impacting the students and overall climate at Ohio University? Here’s a glimpse.
PHIL MOREHEADis currently a third year student who found his way to Better Together and United Campus Ministry because of his participation in the 2011 Interfaith Peace Walk. A self-proclaimed “party-guy” who was ambivalent about his Jewish faith, Phil was so moved by his experience with the Peace Walk, which brings together many campus and community faith groups and congregations, that he sought out an internship at UCM in fall 2012, which included participation on the Better Together Steering Committee. He played a leadership role in the Peace Walk as a walk organizer and “wrangler” (keeping people safe and on the designated route), as well as assisting with sound amplification for the speakers at the church, Hillel, and the Islamic Center. He regularly participates in UCM’s Interfaith Impact weekly meetings and, in that interfaith space and community, he found himself being drawn to examine and engage more deeply with his own faith tradition and so began attending Shabbat services at Hillel. UCM and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion sponsored his participation in the Interfaith Youth Core Leadership Institute in Atlanta (January 2013), where he further developed his skills to lead Better Together and organize for interfaith community on campus. It was an experience that he called nothing short of “life changing.”
“I don’t know what I’ve been doing the past three years. My friends don’t understand why I’ve changed over the last year, but I’ve found something more important to do with my time than just the party scene. It’s because of UCM.” He reflected on the power of the leadership weekend and the friendships he’d made there, most notably with a Muslim student from another campus. “We talked for hours and I learned so much about the similarities between our faiths.” He also learned the importance of listening. “I only shared my story a few times, whereas I found myself much more ready to listen to others. I learned about religions that I knew little about and came to the realization that we all strive for the same virtues: peace, love, and acceptance.”
Phil will help lead the 2013-14 Better Together campaign with an interest in engaging his peer group in interfaith service. This spring he led an Interfaith Impact by sharing his experiences and perspectives on being Jewish and organized a “field trip” to Hillel for Shabbat services. He continues to be inspired by the possibilities of interfaith community while moving through his own personal transformation and re-engaging with his Jewish faith. We are excited to see where Phil will take Better Together 2013-14!