Temple University is developing a Center for Interfaith Inclusivity to be housed in the Office of Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership.
Although the center won’t be a physical building, it’ll consist of programming to offer educational resources on religious identity, traditions, antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of religious bias. Additional programming for the center will be developed once an extern is hired and offerings should start next semester.
“It really is going to be interfaith and so we want to make sure that we’re looking really broadly across religious identity,” said Tiffenia Archie, associate vice president and chief inclusion officer at IDEAL.
Archie also wants the center to be a place for facilitating mediation and conversations between students who perpetrate and are victims of acts of religious hate and bias.
One in three Jewish college students in the United States experienced antisemitism in the 2020-21 academic year, according to an October 2021 survey from Hillel International and the Anti-Defamation League.
More than half of respondents to the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ 2019-20 report said that they had received hateful comments about Islam from their classmates.
“Sometimes there’s this thing ‘I was just joking’ right?” Archie said. “And I don’t think people understand how really harmful right? It may not seem serious to them, and it may seem innocuous to them, but it’s very harmful, right, to the people who experience it.”
The center, which IDEAL originally proposed last year, comes after President Jason Wingard’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Antisemitism recommended in April that the university needs more education on antisemitism and other forms of hate, Archie said.
Lila Corwin Berman, a Jewish studies professor and the director of the Feinstein Center for American Jewish History, believes the commission is a step forward in addressing religious hate on college campuses and fostering an environment where students can learn about antisemitism and geopolitical issues.
“Certain instances of antisemitism are overlapping with questions about Israel and Zionism, and questions that hit different students really differently and depending on a student’s background or their family connections, they might have very different perspectives on Zionism or policies of the State of Israel,” Berman said.
Isaiah Kaplan, a senior political science major who often attends events at Hillel, wants the center to have programming on the Israel-Palestine conflict to dispel misinformation surrounding the topic.
“Most of the people I talked to who talked about the Israel-Palestine conflict, they’re usually not either Israeli or Palestinian or they’re not even like Arab or Jewish and they have literally no, like personal connection to it,” Kaplan said. “And most of like, the information they get is just like what they see on their phone.”
IDEAL plans to incorporate its already existing programming on religious bias and remediation into the center’s content. For example, IDEAL routinely hosts an event discussing the difference between free speech and hate speech.
Attendance at IDEAL events has been inconsistent, Archie said. The office’s event where they discussed free speech versus hate speech garnered a larger audience, while almost no one was at a Spring 2022 discussion sponsored by Hillel which featured a Jewish person and a Palestinian person from a group called Roots.
To draw more attention to the new interfaith programming, IDEAL will continue to promote its social media accounts.
IDEAL wants to continue its advocacy for religious groups on campus with the development of the center. The organization has advocated for a centralized prayer space on campus. Last year, the Muslim Students Association tried to find a consistent prayer space on campus.
MSA President Kubarah Ghias, a senior neuroscience and psychology major, believes the center’s programming will be important for making students aware of the struggles of other religions.
“Last year, we were campaigning for a prayer space,” Ghias said. “A lot of students who were not Muslim actually didn’t know that that was something that a lot of Muslim students on campus were struggling with and it kind of like opened their eyes like ‘wow, my peers are praying under staircases.’”
Ghias would also want chaplains, officially trained and certified religious representatives, to work full-time to advise the center in addition to representatives from the Interfaith Council.
Archie believes that the center is a step in the right direction towards addressing religious hate and bias on campus.
“Will we ever be able to fully, fully eradicate like antisemitism, Islamophobia?” Archie said. “I don’t know if we could do it for the world, but I think we might be able to do it on our campus.”