Over the past few years the Red River has meant many different things to Concordia College students: no class, sand bagging, displacement. This year a group of Concordia students and partners, the river keepers of Fargo Moorhead, hope to change this view of the river by engaging students in interfaith dialogue through service projects focusing on the Red River.
These service projects are known as the Better Together campaign. The first service project will take place Oct. 1. The group will walk to Gooseberry Park for a cleanup project on the Red River and will walk back to campus for a reflection period.
Co-leader of the campaign, senior Blake MacKenzie said that the reason why Concordia needs a campaign like Better Together is because an event like this can help people of different beliefs learn to coexist.
The idea for increased interfaith dialogue on campus was encouraged by a challenge proposed by President Barack Obama who wanted Americans to unite over values rather than letting them divide us. Concordia responded to this challenge with a proposal, and was one of 250 colleges that were accepted by the president’s initiative.
This proposal is known as the Better Together Campaign. The campaign was organized by the Interfaith Youth Core. Better Together is not yet a student organization on campus, but hopes to become one in the near future. Its focus is to serve the community while fostering interfaith dialogue. The service projects are aimed to include not just students and faculty, but those in the community as well.
“Everyone is welcome,” MacKenzie said. “We hope that people will have the opportunity to start a conversation with someone different than them, or someone they wouldn’t talk to otherwise”.
By being a part of service projects that include people from all different backgrounds and traditions, students will have plenty of opportunities to engage with each other, whether it’s by volunteering to clean up the Red River, learning how to be responsible for water systems in their area or reflecting on the community projects.
Beginning Oct. 1 there will be different projects and opportunities throughout the year, including informative education about the Red River as well as a spring project that will take place during Earth week. The focus is on the Red River because it has played a large part in the community over the past few years, mostly due to the flooding and subsequent sandbagging.
Senior Elise Tweten, another member of Better Together, said that out of all of the student activities Concordia has to offer, she choose Better Together because of her passion for interfaith dialogue.
“When I talk to a Muslim,” Tweten said, “I get a sense for what it is that I hold dear, and I can learn to understand what she grounds her own life and decisions in. When I talk to a Hindu, I am inspired by their deep relationship with their chosen god or goddess and the feminine divine energy that pervades all things. It’s exciting. It’s important to my own well-being to learn and be struck with wonder”.
Jacqueline Bussie, director of the Forum on Faith and Life, who is new to Concordia this academic year, is the faculty advisor for the Better Together campaign. Before she got involved here, she worked to foster interfaith dialogue in every aspect of her life and wants to continue that here on Concordia’s campus.
“Our mission statement says that we are to send out thoughtful and informed men and women into the world,” Bussie said. “Well, the world we live in is a religiously diverse world, and we are responsible to care for each other in this way, by caring about other people’s religions.”
Bussie wants to encourage people to recognize differences but to not allow them to divide us.
“We don’t have to agree on the doctrine of the Messiah in order to grow tomatoes together,” Bussie said.
Better Together hopes to serve as a gateway for students to overcome their differences in order to unite in cooperative action. Those who are interested are encouraged to sign up at the Better Together booth Sept. 28-30. Those who are participating will meet in the atrium at 1:30.