Mary Trollinger, a senior religion major from Danville, was recently selected from among hundreds of applicants from colleges and universities around the world to attend the Interfaith Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C.
The institute was hosted by the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC); Georgetown University’s Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs; and the White House Office for Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. It was a conference that brought together more than 200 college students and “campus allies” (professors and chaplains). All 50 states were represented, as well as several foreign countries, including Pakistan, China and England.
The training was designed to give student leaders and campus allies the vision, knowledge and skills necessary to lead on-campus interfaith and community service initiatives, such as IFYC’s “Better Together” campaign.
“Though Better Together is the campaign, the motto is ‘What If…,’” Trollingers says. “We were asked questions like: ‘What if the Westboro Baptist Church came to protest on your campus? What if Martin Luther King, Jr. had rejected the principles of nonviolence resistance because it was a Hindu idea, articulated by Gandhi? What if religion was a tool for cooperation, rather than conflict?’
“The institute’s purpose was to teach us how to speak out about issues of religious prejudice or conflict, nationally and locally; how to mobilize communities to take action; and how to sustain these efforts to create a lasting impact within the college and greater community. More than 500 people applied to be part of this event, and I was fortunate enough to have been selected to attend!”
Trollinger goes on to say that one session was held at the White House. Several high ranking officials spoke during this session, including Joshua DuBois, Special Assistant to the President and Executive Director of the Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Core.
“I met so many interesting and diverse people this weekend and learned so much from the people surrounding me,” Trollinger says. “We talked about difficult issues and challenged each other to think deeply about pressing, sensitive topics—topics that are often considered taboo but which were completely fair game here.
“I’m grateful to Professor Axtell [associate professor of religion and college chaplain] for telling me about it and encouraging me to apply—I wouldn’t have known about it if it weren’t for him, and I wish he could have come with me to experience the institute as my campus ally!” (Axtell is currently abroad, where he is leading the Centre-in-the-Yucatan program.)
Trollinger says that plans are afoot to launch a Better Together campaign on Centre’s campus in the near future, with a social action project and specific goals relating to enhancing the Centre and greater Danville communities.