Albion Advantage, the College’s enhanced four-year model of education for all students, reached beyond the integration of academic and experienced-based learning opportunities this fall as students of all religious traditions learned to become comfortable sharing their faith while respecting others’ traditions at the same time.The
“One of the most important things to this global economy is learning how to work together with people who are different, and if you are shooting for being a leader or manager in any kind of career you are going to need to learn these sensitivities,” Albion College Chaplain Dan McQuown said. “I never tell a Christian or a Muslim or an atheist or someone who doesn’t know [what their spiritual beliefs are] to change, but I do say you need to know who you are and you need to be able to respect others.”
The Bridge is Albion College’s interfaith council, bringing together students from diverse beliefs to foster awareness, support under-represented traditions, and most importantly, grow as individuals. “We’re creating a space for people to have relationships, where people can talk honestly and openly about their religious identity, their spiritual musings and thoughts, and their philosophies on life,” McQuown added. “We don’t look at what we’re doing as taking away from the other activities or academics, but actually providing a sense of community, and in the process learning important interfaith and cultural skills that will help them in their careers.”
McQuown said one of the initiatives undertaken by the Bridge, faith groups, and other organizations during the fall semester was accepting President Obama’s challenge to implement interfaith community service. Albion students participated in three days of interfaith community service with Albion Interfaith Ministry and Vision of Life Community Center in the fall, and three additional days are anticipated during the spring semester.
‘A dream come true’
While finding a niche for spiritual life in the Albion Advantage is an accomplishment, McQuown’s voice swells when he talks about the ethnic diversity that has been forged on the 20-person chapel leadership team. Chapel is the campus ecumenical student-led Christian worship that happens every Wednesday night in the Kellogg Center's Gerstacker Commons (“Stack”).
“I think this is the best year for ethnic diversity since I arrived in 2003 and maybe the best year in Chapel’s history,” McQuown said. “It has taken a lot of encouragement and mentoring, but it has also taken some courage of our student leaders to break down walls between ethnic backgrounds. It is wonderful to see because you can feel and explore the diversity of Christianity on campus in a way that is harder to do in local churches in our communities.
“Jeremy Covell ['11], our chapel leader last year, worked to build a bridge between chapel and United Voices of Albion College as well as Black Student Alliance," McQuown continued. "Even though he’s graduated, I think the fruits of his labor can be seen in the fact that two of the top leaders of UVAC are in chapel leadership this year. We have a lot of students who are willing to step across the lines of ethnicity and race and put themselves in fellowship and working together to praise God.”
‘Very courageous students’
Breaking down ethnic and racial barriers in Chapel is only one of many examples in which the students have demonstrated courage. McQuown has also been impressed by the depth of sharing among students.
“We get deep and profound sharing [from the students in chapel] that is connected to their real-life stories; it is not just dogma or theology,” McQuown said. “The other piece of courage I would mention is the sense of boldness that is hard to quantify. There is a surge of Christians willing to be up front about whom they are and share that. It takes courage and work to be united across lines of denomination.”
Likewise, McQuown has been impressed by the depth of sharing at Bridge meetings. Along with sharing their own unique perspectives on spirituality, students have started to invite faculty members to share with them, providing a unique context to learn about diversity of belief. “These interfaith dialogue experiences with peers and faculty will benefit the students no matter what career they pursue,” McQuown said.