OU Students are Interfaith Leaders!

We are excited to be sending two more Bobcats to Interfaith Youth Core’s Leadership Institute in Chicago next month! We look for these students to come back inspired and equipped to help Better Together at Ohio University continue to build interfaith community through education, engagement and service!  Thanks to the Ohio University Dean of Students and Diversity and Inclusion offices for their ongoing and generous support!

Make sure the 9/11 Interfaith Peace Walk is on your calendar and start the year off with an always inspiring experience of the amazing religious and non-religious diversity that we choose to celebrate here at OU and in Athens. As always, we will gather in front of the  Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd around 7:00pm on Friday, September 11 and end at the Islamic Center on Stewart St.

Look for another Serve Better Together watershed clean-up project with Monday Creek and other cool events and opportunities to voice your values, engage with others and act together.

If YOU are an undergrad Bobcat and would like to get involved this fall, email us at bettertogetherou@gmail.com, call UCM at 740-593-7301!

Interfaith Leadership Institutes (ILIs) equip undergraduate students, staff, and faculty with the skills to engage diverse religious and non-religious identities to build the interfaith movement on their campuses.
  • Students train to be interfaith leaders who build relationships across identities, tell powerful stories to bridge divides, and learn about ways to mobilize their campuses.
  • Staff and faculty network with other higher education professionals, share best practices about how to be an ally to student leaders, and partner with their students to create change on their campuses.
  • All participants get a chance to build relationships, network, and share best practices with other people from across the country who are passionate about interfaith work. Additionally, everyone will have the opportunity to access key resources and strategies for mobilizing their campuses for interfaith cooperation, such as the Better Together campaign, a student-led campaign for interfaith action. 
The next Interfaith Leadership Institute is January 22-24, 2016 in Atlanta. Let us know if you are interested!

CULTIVATE PEACE – by Rev. Evan Young

Published by Interfaith Youth Core on Oct. 16, 2014

Just as the Better Together team at Ohio University was getting back to campus and getting their feet under them for this year’s  campaign, something happened that changed everything.

On September 2, the newly elected president of Ohio U’s Student Senate uploaded a video response to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge she was issued by the university’s president. Rather than a bucket of ice water, Megan Marzec dumped a bucket of fake blood over her head, while calling attention to the Israeli government’s treatment of the people of Palestine and calling on the university to divest from all academic and other institutions connected to or supportive of the government of Israel.

Within hours, the university president issued a statement distancing himself and the university from Marzec’s position. The Student Senate issued an apology for her actions, and made clear that her statement didn’t express the Senate’s opinion. And representatives of several Jewish and/or pro-Israel student groups showed up at the September 3 Senate meeting to call for Marzec’s resignation.

Then things went viral. Within days, Marzec’s email and Facebook were flooded with hate messages, death threats, rape threats, and vitriol from all over the world. The university and the local chapter of Hillel were deluged with phone calls and messages from concerned parents and donors, threatening to pull their students and/or money from a campus that (to them) was feeling more and more unsafe. It seemed like things couldn’t possibly get worse.

Things got worse. Members of Bobcats for Israel attended the September 10 Student Senate meeting and, as it was called to order, mounted a “filibuster,” reading a statement decrying Marzec and then reading testimonies from administrators at various universities arguing that academic sanctions were counterproductive. They held the floor for close to 40 minutes, while student senators, faculty members, and students shouted their disapproval, raised chants against them, and, at times, physically confronted them. Some at the meeting heard students call them “fascists” and “Nazis,” and video of the event captured something that sounded like “bring on the rope.” At that point Marzec called for a Senate vote on whether they should be removed from the meeting, and four of the protesting students were arrested and removed. Tensions were high.

Meanwhile, our Better Together campus organizers (remember them?) were busy planning our fourth annual 9/11 Interfaith Peace Walk. Started on the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Walk has offered an opportunity each September for hundreds of students and community members to come together to embody a different vision of what religious diversity might look like—people from all faiths united in their commitment to peace. It’s also served as a ready-made public kickoff to the year’s Better Together campaign—a way to get the name and the message out there, on the streets of Athens, in front of several hundred of our best and/or newest friends.

So, the day after four students were arrested at a Student Senate meeting where they called for the resignation of the duly elected Senate president, the week after the University was propelled onto the biggest stage many of us had ever imagined, we called people of all faiths together to walk for peace, and to cultivate peace from the inside out. “We’re at the center of a media storm, and right now peace seems pretty far away,” I said in my introductory remarks. “And yet however tempted by despair, we have brought our sore and heavy hearts here to be something extraordinary, together. It starts here. Right here, in our sore and heavy hearts, is where we need to begin to make peace.” And we walked—Protestants and Catholics, Jews and Muslims, Unitarians and agnostics and atheists and Buddhists. In silence, in quiet conversation, in community. At the end of the walk, in the light of the candles we held, we sang: “I’ve got peace like a river, Joy like a fountain, tears like the raindrops, strength like a mountain.”

In light of how everything changed, think about what Dean of Students Jenny Hall-Jones said at the walk: “There’s healing power in saying ‘This is who I am, and I’m standing next to someone very different from me, but we’re all in this together.'” Or what Student Senate Vice President Caitlyn McDaniel said after making the walk with students from the Muslim Student Association and Bobcats for Israel: “This was very necessary for the community, and it was a beautiful thing to see people coming together, especially today.” Think about seeing the president of Bobcats for Israel on the lawn of the campus Islamic Center, chatting with other students who came to the walk. Our work changes things.

It’s still too soon to know exactly how our community will respond to the interfaith challenge Megan Marzec raised. But we will respond. We’re planning panels and teach-ins and movie screenings. We’re beginning, here and there, to figure out how we can talk about all this. And in all these conversations we’re beginning to build the social capital that will make us resilient, that will empower us to face future controversies together.

Interfaith Peace Walk

My name is Mackenzie Kistler and I am the author of this blog. I am a Freshman at Ohio University looking to major in Strategic Communication. This is my first year being a part of Better Together and the Interfaith Peace Walk but I have already learned so much about ways connect with others peacefully. It is a very special program that promotes individuality and freedom of belief which I feel very strongly about. I hope you enjoy! 
On September 11, 2014 the citizens of The United States all remembered the tragic events that took place in New York City in 2001. Some put aside moments of silence, some visited graves, and approximately 300 people took part in the Interfaith Peace Walk in Athens, Ohio. This walk occurs annually through Better Together and gains more participants each year. This walk is not only in remembrance of 9/11 but of every violent act worldwide.

 People of every religious affiliation are encouraged to come out to this gathering. As soon as people arrived they filled out a poster that said “I’m a ________ & I’m at the Interfaith Peace Walk because_______________”. These posters showed that although people may have different beliefs everyone can all agree on one thing: peace is priority.

 Next, the walkers took on the streets and sidewalks of Athens with peace flags, banners, and smiles. The first stop was at Hillel at Ohio University which is the center for Jewish Life where members recited a Jewish prayer and spoke kind words in remembrance of victims of the violent crimes in Gaza and Israel.
Next on the route was the Muslim Students Association at Ohio University. Here, a speech on Muslim beliefs was presented teaching us that although differences are present in our beliefs we are all connected in some way.

 To finish the night off there was a candle lighting that was accompanied with peaceful songs. The candle lighting was especially impactful because no one could see anyone else’s face or poster that stated their religious affiliation. It was just 300 people coming together to create one, loud voice in the name of peace.
 All 300 participants make a significant impact on the people of Athens because people stopped what they were doing to pay attention to the walk and ask what it was for. Some even joined in the walk. By partaking in peaceful events like the Interfaith Peace Walk are raising awareness for peace and lowering the chance of violent acts reoccurring. As a first time participant I felt very empowered. It showed me that you can make a difference in the world. I also learned that among all of the violence in the violence in the world there is always a place for peace. 



I never thought about the power of an interfaith dialogue in overcoming social issues. In fact, this past spring was the first time this idea had ever been presented to me. This idea inspires me, as a global studies major and a global citizen, because many of the conflicts and wars I read about in class and raise awareness for are often tied to religious difference in some way.

The Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a national organization dedicated to building religious
 pluralism through interfaith cooperation and leadership, created the Better Together Campaign. The Campaign works to engage individuals with and without faith traditions in the creation of an interfaith dialogue through social work. The Campaign is in its fourth year here in the Athens community, sponsored by United Campus Ministry. This year’s Better Together Team is focused on fundraising for the Community Food InitiativeS (CFI) to raise awareness about food insecurity in the region. This focus will serve as the social work component and basis for the continued construction of our community’s interfaith consciousness.

Our work to build interfaith engagement has manifested itself in movie screenings, penny wars, and the cleaning of a polluted ravine to not only raise money for CFI but to also bring greater social, environmental and interfaith harmony to this lovely region of Southeast Ohio. And that’s not all, because the Better Together Team is just getting started.

We have a strong foundation of interfaith leaders hosted in that big, red brick house at 18 North College. We are working tirelessly to build bridges between all faiths in order to harness the power we possess to make this world a more peaceful place. Look for us in the community orchestrating peace walks, rallies and events to fuel this flourishing interfaith movement!

September 11th Peace Walk to Demonstrate We Are Better Together

Wednesday September 11, students, Athenians, and local faith communities will take to the streets for the third annual Interfaith Peace Walk. The walk will begin at 7pm at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd on University Terrace and will end at the Islamic Center on Stewart Street. Taking place against the backdrop of escalating tension and potential military intervention in Syria, as well as the dozens of other persistent conflicts throughout the world, the Interfaith Peace Walk offers people of all faiths–or no faith tradition–in the Athens and Ohio University communities an opportunity to demonstrate our common commitment to a more peaceful, fair, and free world.
“We all know the phrase ‘peace be with you,'” says the Reverend Evan Young, UCM’s Campus Minister. “Many of us can’t hear the phrase without giving the automatic response used in many churches–‘and also with you.’ We’re walking on September 11th to show that these are more than just words–that they call us to action, to public witness, to advocacy for a different way of being humanity together.”
The march will make the rounds of the uptown churches, starting at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd and making its way past First United Methodist Church, Athens First Presbyterian, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Hillel at OU, St. Paul Catholic Church, Christ Lutheran Church, and Christ the King University Parish, and will end with a gathering at the Islamic Center.
Sponsors of the peace walk include Better Together at Ohio University and OU’s University College. Local faith communities sponsoring the walk include UCM Center for Spiritual Growth & Social Justice, Athens First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Athens First Presbyterian Church, Athens Friends Meeting, Christ Lutheran Church, the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, the First United Methodist Church of Athens, Hillel at Ohio University, the Muslim Student Association, and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Athens.
The march is part of the Better Together campaign at Ohio University, which is a continuing student-led effort to mobilize college students from different faith backgrounds to engage in community service together to make Ohio University a better place for everyone.

UCM Participates in 4th Interfaith Leadership Institute

Interfaith Leadership Institute Conference (ILI) – 
An Inward Journey of Leadership, Tolerance, & Inspiration
By Javad Anjum, Doctoral Student in Aphasiology, OU          
Javad, IFYC Founder Eboo Patel and UCM Director Melissa Wales at ILI Aug. 2014
When I signed up to attend the three-day ILI Conference in New York City this summer, I experienced a range of emotions from excitement and curiosity, to uncertainty and anxiety. Although I have actively engaged in facilitating youth leadership activities and promoting interfaith harmony at a smaller level in Ohio University, it was the first time I was going to experience aspects of interfaith cooperation and leadership initiatives at the national level. As I come to find out later, the conference had a significant international participation, wherein allies and students from various parts of the world actively engaged; in an array of interfaith leadership training sessions and celebrated interactions with fellow attendees from diverse faiths, denominations, and traditions.
                  I went to the conference with a broader idea of what to expect, and did my homework of thoroughly browsing the IFYC website and formulating questions that would help me gain more clarity into the Better Together Movement in general and my role as an interfaith leader in specific. The conference provided me with an engaging experience wherein, I was able to discuss with fellow allies and students about what interfaith cooperation meant to them and learn more about their interfaith work across campuses and communities. This not only instilled in me a sense of belongingness to the community of interfaith leaders, but also presented me with novel and creative ideas to fuel our own interfaith cooperation efforts at Ohio University. It was great to see interfaith leaders from diverse affiliations working in cohesion across campuses and communities to restore and enable peaceful and harmonious coexistence. I learned that successful interfaith leaders had a few things in common; first, they never talked about what was “different” among people. They always appreciated positive and shared values across different faiths and denominations and identified ways of working together with a sense of unified purpose. Second, interfaith leaders strived to develop “positive relationships” with people who may hold “different” views. Third, they promote a “safe space”, wherein fruitful interfaith discussion and community service efforts are realized without any threat of fear, anxiety, or prejudice. Finally, interfaith leaders are very passionate about their work. Equipped with a contagious enthusiasm for interfaith work, they readily share personal “stories” that motivated them to choose the path of interfaith cooperation. During the duration of the conference, I observed that every attendee was willing to share their experience in doing interfaith work and were open to collaborations for future projects.
The individual training and plenary sessions of the conference were carefully crafted to inspire, motivate, and enable allies and students in performing interfaith work. It was hard to overlook the ingrained culture of interfaith diversity and tolerance at the conference. I felt that we are all part of a larger movement and our unique identities, aspirations, and efforts are helping to take this cause forward. While the individual sessions focused on enhancing and facilitating interfaith cooperation knowledge and skills, plenary sessions included guest speakers and team discussions. Most individual sessions included training both students and allies in delegations of 3-4, (such as Ohio University, Utah Valley University, and Ohio State University, etc.,) which not only helped us focus our efforts into improving interfaith work in our own campuses, but also provided an ideal platform to discuss individual strategies and tips with other campuses as well. Additionally, some individual training sessions were conducted separately students and allies, wherein the training module and content was designed to address specific issues facing interfaith work. Plenary sessions were highlighted by insightful and engaging talks by guest speakers including Eboo Patel and past ILI Alumni, who provided valuable tenets of their knowledge and current efforts in interfaith cooperation. These talks offered wonderful opportunities for the attendees to seek solutions for challenges and problems they were facing in their interfaith work. Some of the important topics included handling challenging conversations, enhancing campus presence for interfaith work and leadership, seeking funding and resources, and identifying potential allies.
I noticed that the ILI conference inculcated in me, a series of small, significant, and insightful changes that have positively impacted my interfaith beliefs and helped me gain clarity of vision as an interfaith leader. The experience has given me a tool kit that I can utilize design, develop, collaborate, and convene interfaith work at Ohio University, and beyond. I have learned from the experience of other allies at the ILI, the challenges we are facing as interfaith leaders and the solutions we need to formulate. I look forward to applying my knowledge and skills I obtained at the ILI, to enhance current interfaith efforts by UCM in Athens. Specifically, I envision to contribute significantly to the Better Together campaign at Ohio University in its current mission of promoting interfaith cooperation in the campus through community service projects and interfaith initiatives. I recommend ILI to anyone interested in interfaith work and youth leadership. There is something to learn for everyone, regardless of the type of faith, affiliation, and denomination or the level of current involvement in interfaith work.

Better Together at OU receives honorable mention by IFYC!

—-B R E A K I N G    N E W S ——  This just in! Better Together at Ohio University received honorable mention for “Loudest Voice” for successfully spreading the word about interfaith cooperation and the Better Together campaign. Given that we WON the Best Campus Impact award last year, it’s very cool to be mentioned AGAIN this year among this very select group of campuses. Way to go Allison, Anne, Phil, Joannah, Abby, Olivia, and all the other Better Together students! We’re looking forward to a great 2013-14 campaign and will be sending two more students and UCM Director Melissa Wales to an Interfaith Leadership Institute in New York City this August to build on this momentum and develop more interfaith campus leaders!

Better Together wraps up one year and plans for 2013-141


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!

Religious leaders host discussion, show solidarity | The Post

View Original Post:  Religious leaders host discussion, show solidarity | The Post

Religious leaders host discussion, show solidarity

Publication Date: March 19, 2013 – 4:46am
Updated: March 19, 2013 – 4:46am

Ohio University sophomore Omar Kurdi speaks about violence at a panel that brought together members of five different religious institutions. (Sara Kramer | For The Post )

By Emily Bamforth 

Five members from different religious institutions in Athens came together Monday night to start a dialogue about violence and faith in regards to their different belief sets as part of Ohio University’s Better Together campaign.
The panel included representatives from five faiths: Rabbi Danielle Leshaw, director of Hillel at OU; Omar Kurdi, communication chair of the Muslim Student Association; Rob Martin, reverend at First Presbyterian Church; Tiffanie Shanks, director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries at First United Methodist Church; and Stephen Kropf, assistant director of the Athens KTC Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Center.
Allison Schoeppner, campus organizer of the Better Together campaign at OU, said having these leaders in a room together while discussing a topic such as violence helps relieve the preconception of division between religions.
“(This) is not an image of faith that we see a lot in the media in our society,” said Schoeppner, a junior studying international studies and war and peace. “It shows solidarity, the fact that there are similarities between religions; it shows that there are issues that we can find commonality on and work together on to help end.”
Evan Young, moderator for the panel, which hosted about 15 attendees, said the event fostered a type of discussion necessary for bridging gaps among religions.
“It’s a challenge sometimes to have a panel where people don’t speak in the abstract, where they don’t talk about big ideas and grand philosophies but instead speak from a place of personal experience and their own struggles,” added Young, minister at United Campus Ministries and the Universalist Fellowship of Athens. “That was one of the aims of the panel, and I think we got there.”
The panel focused on a variety of aspects on the topic of violence as interpreted by different faiths. The conversation began with Young asking questions to participants and then opened up to audience participation. Discussion ranged from recent events like the verdict of the highly publicized Steubenville rape case to the fundamental causes of violence.
“Faith should be the place where people find answers,” Shanks said. “(It should be) where they can find comfort, and where they find peace. All faith traditions (should) take time to address these kinds of questions.”