Interfaith dialogue hopes to bring Marshall community together

To unite the Huntington community through conversations about faith and understanding those with different beliefs, an Interfaith Dialogue event will be held Thursday, April 11 at 6 p.m. on Marshall University’s campus. 

“Through a meal, we hope that, through an exchange of food and ideas, we are opening our minds to understanding others’ religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs,” said Zelideth Rivas, a Unity Month committee chairperson and associate professor of Japanese. 

With the hope to bring the community together, Marshall has made the month of April Unity Month, said Will Holland, Marshall’s director of community outreach and volunteer services. The Interfaith Dialogue is one of the events in the month-long celebration. 

Holland said the dialogue is set up to show the Huntington community that Marshall is inclusive and welcome to all. 

“This is our second year of doing Unity Month, where we take the month of April and tell campus and the local community that Marshall is very inclusive and open to all,” Holland said. “A very important component of being inclusive and open-minded is how we look at faith, religion and beliefs, and so we have created a dinner where we invite anyone who wants to talk about their faith, and are comfortable doing it, to do so.”

Taking on the same setup as last year, the event gives attendees a chance to meet others with different religious viewpoints and to gain an understanding of them, Rivas said. 

“It is about exchanging the different ideas amongst each other and trying to make campus life a little smaller,” Rivas said. “I think that, in general, we get lost sometimes, and we are hoping that, through an exchange of ideas and exchange of a meal, we can learn more about each other.”

During the event, attendees will be given a color that matches a table to sit at. Once seated, they will be guided through a set of questions to be discussed with other members at that table. The idea of this comes from the hope for attendees to engage in faith conversations with those that they normally would not, Rivas said. 

“All these events, especially the Interfaith Dialogue, are to show us that people are just people and we are open to all —all religions, all understandings, all people— and to remind Marshall that we are diverse,” Rivas said.  

To make the event open to all, the questions are open-ended and nonspecific to any religion to allow for the conversation to make anyone comfortable to talk about their beliefs, Rivas said.

“Some of them are ideas, such as, ‘In your family, what does a religious holiday look like?’” Rivas said. “‘Does it involve going to your religious place of worship?’ or ‘Does it involve staying at home and being with your family?’ Different things like that.”

Anyone from the Huntington community is welcome to this event, which helps build the relationship between community members and students, Holland said.

“Because it is open to the community, any time we can get people from off campus to come in and share a meal with us, it is usually positive,” Holland said. “Just interacting with the students, and allowing our students to interact with local leaders, is always positive in terms of creating new relations and making Huntington, as a whole, a welcoming place, even after you graduate, showing that not only campus, but Huntington is here and welcomes you.”

With each person coming into the event with a different outlook, Rivas said she hopes everyone can feel comfortable and learn about each other. 

“We all carry different stories within us, and the point of the evening is to share those stories, but in a meaningful way that we are giving each other space to listen and space to ask questions without any fear of misunderstanding,” Rivas said.

The Interfaith Dialogue, which is sponsored by the Drinko Academy, will be held in the John Marshall Dining Room. A dinner will be included with a vegetarian option. 

RSVPs for the event can be sent to Will Holland at [email protected]

Meredith O’Bara can be reached at [email protected]