OREM — Officials from Utah Valley University and interfaith leaders met with visitors from Africa Monday, April 23, to discuss UVU’s new Reflection Center, the Interfaith Student Association, and ways to develop respect for other faiths.
Ghana, Zimbabwe, and Kenya were among the eight provinces from Africa that engaged in the dialogue. The group was part of the U.S. Department of State's International Visitor Leadership Program. The program is administered locally by the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy and arranged that the group meet with UVU as part of its 21-day project to learn about religious freedoms in the United States.
“It’s such a neat experience, I never thought this would happen,” said Linda Walton, co-chair of the Interfaith Student Association. Walton further explained that they have met with Canadians and Syrians in the past, however this was its first time meeting with Africans.
According to Walton, interfaith ambassadors are trying to find ways to dissolve hatred in their provinces: “We’re hoping to encourage them, hopefully we can give them hope that it can be done,” said Walton.
Brian Birch, associate vice president for Academic Affairs, presented UVU’s new Reflection Center, which will be completed within the next two years. The new center will feature a prayer room, mediation room, and convening room, which will be open to all religions on campus.
“We’re very interested in reaching out to make sure that every student and every faculty member and every member of our staff feels welcome and comfortable,” said Birch.
Birch also explained that UVU plans to develop an Interfaith Student Council, which will convene various religious clubs that can come together and work with one another.
“Our theme for the Interfaith Student Association is moving from tolerance to love,” said Walton. “We want to do everything we can to educate people.”
Mr. Nurudeen Alhassan, president of the Ghana Muslim Academy, asked student representative Daniel Colver what his biggest challenge was as a student.
Colver responded that he was disappointed with the bigotry that he saw around him and how it motivates him to get involved. He explained that it is crucial for others to step out of their comfort zones.
Emily Stephenson is a young freelance journalist, trying to obtain experience in all realms of media. Contact her at Emilynicoline@gmail.com