Even though most students may not be aware of it Northwestern is lucky to have interfaith as a pretty institutionalized concept. In some ways, NU is a leader of college campuses in “Interfaith.” I learned recently that our Interfaith Hall (a res hall in PLEX where residents can explore each others’ faiths and learn about their own) is the longest running hall of its kind in the country!

But Interfaith Hall isn’t our only resource. Our university chaplains are awesome about giving resources and support to interfaith initiatives and the campus religious groups themselves are really receptive to reflection, service and dialogue. Then of course there are resources in the local area like the Interfaith Action of Evanston, the Interfaith Youth Core in Chicago and religious communities dedicated to interfaith work like the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation. Plus, we have twitter! (Follow us @NUinterfaith)

But, if you’re new to interfaith this peptalk doesn’t really tell you what it is… and it certainly doesn’t explain who I am, what I do or why I do it here on campus.

My name is Kelsey and I’m a junior here. I identify as an atheist but I live in the University Christian Ministry and am a journalism/religious studies major. Everyone always thinks it’s strange or somehow contradictory that I do interfaith work without having a “faith” of my own. I’m not quite sure how I got into it myself except that I was invited in to the UCM building for a root beer float at the beginning of my freshman year – a time when I needed to establish a community for myself on campus. I have to admit I was a little apprehensive about joining these Christians on their porch.

What was I getting myself into?

Were they going to try to convert me? Were they going to disapprove of my short hair? Of my gay friends?

Looking back, I’m embarrassed of these thoughts. They couldn’t have been more off-base. At UCM, I’ve found a welcoming community where inquiry is encouraged and interfaith understanding is not only accepted but heralded.

It is through UCM that I started thinking about how people of different faiths, or any faith, see the world and how they impact it. As I integrated myself into the UCM community I started to do more and more work with the chaplains, Interfaith Hall and the NU Interfaith Initiative.

At all of these places and events I’m never asked to abandon my identity in any respect. In fact, I’m welcomed as a pro-choice, sex-positive atheist in the same way that the complex identities of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, evangelical Christians or any other worldview is welcomed. Nuances are allowed, recognized and encouraged. And so, I found the word interfaith to designate a rare place where whole people – not labels, cliches or stereotypes – can interact and work together. I hope to be able to extend those interfaith spaces to more of campus through relationship building and service.

For this year, I’ll be working with the Interfaith Youth Core and campus groups to expand the presence of interfaith on our campus. I’m one of 20 IFYC Fellows doing similar work on college campuses across the country. This blog will serve as a platform to hear form some of them but mostly as a space for NU students to share their experience with interfaith, religion and service while at college.

It should be cool, so stay tuned!