University part of national interfaith service challenge

St. Edward’s University is one of 250 nationwide schools participating in President Barack Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.

The purpose of the year-long initiative is to create a culture of interfaith cooperation that leads to dialogue among different faiths.

Some of the challenge’s goals include creating a sustainable campus environment of interfaith cooperation, as well as contributing to President Martin’s Strategic 2015 Plan of global preparedness.

Each school has a specific focus for the year; St. Edward’s will be focusing on displacement, migration and refugees.

The focus will include exploring the movement of people due to natural disasters, as well as ethnic and religious conflict.

The focus fits in with the freshmen summer reading,  “A.D. New Orleans after the Deluge,” Josh Neufeld’s graphic novel about the experiences of New Orleans residents after Hurricane Katrina.

James Puglisi, associate director of Campus Ministry and project leader of the interfaith challenge, said that main players include himself, Dean of Students Lisa Kirkpatrick, Director of Institutional Assessment David Blair and Administrative Coordinator for the School of Humanities Kate Rosati.

Various groups and organizations are involved in the interfaith challenge. These include the Kozmetsky Center, University Programming Board, Student Life, Campus Ministry, Residence Life and the School of Business and Management, among others.

St. Edward’s has also reached out to outside organizations to help meet the challenge’s objectives.

The university has partnered with Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT), whose goals include creating peace through interfaith dialogue.

St. Edward’s has also partnered with Psychology Beyond Borders (PBB), a nonprofit organization that, according to its website, is “committed to international leadership in evidence-informed psychosocial preparedness, prevention and response to disasters, armed conflict and terrorism.” PBB and St. Edward’s will screen the documentary “Beyond Beliefs” in spring 2012.

St. Edward’s is also hoping to connect with the Diocese of Austin for this challenge.

Currently, there are no outlets for students to volunteer. However, students can connect with iACT to volunteer for any amount of time, according to Puglisi. iACT can be contacted at (512) 386-9145.

“We’re trying to be creative and find sustainable types of service,” Puglisi said. “We’re asking: How can we get students to think about the types of service they do?”

“Growing up with my mom being on the board and now president elect of iACT has definitely made me realize how important and how much of an impact interfaith dialogue can make in our surroundings,” sophomore Salva Khataw said.

On-campus events, such as the screening of “Divided We Fall” in September and Richard Halloran’s speech on “The Rising East and China” on Oct. 4, have been part of the challenge.

Puglisi said the interfaith challenge will not be all talking heads.

“We’re coming around common community needs, and we need relationship understanding and cooperation,” he said.

More service-oriented events are on the horizon, including the upcoming Founder’s Day Service Project on Oct. 22.

St. Edward’s is not the only school in Texas to be part of Obama’s Interfaith Challenge. Houston-Tillotson University, University of the Incarnate Word, Rice University and Texas Christian University are also participating. Incarnate Word’s focus is also refugees.

“None of the big schools like UT Austin and Texas A&M are doing anything,” Puglisi said. “Their loss.”

At the end of the year-long challenge, St. Edward’s will do a self-assessment. They will then submit the assessment to the White House, which will evaluate it over the summer.

“The best examples of students coming together to help those in need will be recognized by the White House,” according to the White House website.