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American Muslim Espouses Interfaith Dialogue at UT

Published: March 10, 2011
Eboo Patel will be speaking at The University of Tampa on March 15 at 7 p.m. in the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values.
Eboo Patel will be speaking at The University of Tampa on March 15 at 7 p.m. in the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values.
Eboo Patel has been called a changemaker.

The founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based nonprofit fueling the interfaith youth movement, Patel is one of U.S. News and World Report’s Top Leaders of 2009, an Ashoka Fellow and Rhodes scholar who has a doctorate from Oxford University in the sociology of religion.

He has shared his vision at gatherings like the Clinton Global Initiative, TED conference and Nobel Peace Prize Forum. He comes next to The University of Tampa on March 15 at 7 p.m. in the Sykes Chapel and Center for Faith and Values, in an event seen as the student kick-off for this newest edition to the University’s campus.

Organizers hope Patel’s talk will dispel any lingering question as to the use and purpose of the chapel and center.

“We wanted someone who would set the tone for what the center is and what it isn’t,” said Stephanie Russell Holz, associate dean of students and director of the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement, who is committed to spreading Patel’s message of interfaith leadership in a global society.

Patel’s speech will include examples of the historical progress of interfaith cooperation and religious pluralism in the United States, said Jennifer Bailey, campus engagement associate with Interfaith Youth Core . He will stress the importance of young people and community efforts in reframing the discourse of religion in the world from one of conflict to one of cooperation.

Holz and others on the Resource Team for Faith, Values and Spirituality have spent the last year courting Patel, who Holz said is one of the most sought-after speakers on this topic. Patel is selective though, and only goes to forums where he thinks there is a strong commitment to sustainable change.

“We believe that college campuses have the potential to be models of interfaith cooperation for the rest of society. As a result we are committed to working with schools that share our long-term commitment to cultivating interfaith cooperation and leadership among students,” said Bailey.

“We want to ensure that our engagements with campuses are not ‘one shot’ events but are helping to facilitate a cultural shift at an institution,” Bailey said, explaining the group’s holistic approach from the alumni and community to students, faculty, staff and the president and senior staff.

As such, the University has committed to a one-year contract with the Interfaith Youth Core to build the framework for this kind of institutional shift. Early campus assessments show UT is not far off base though.

“Our students are saying this is a diverse campus, which is a testament to our international population. It’s woven into our culture,” Holz said. “Our faculty and staff like being in a place that’s inclusive. We’re on the right track.”

Leaders from the Interfaith Youth Core, including Bailey, came to campus in mid-February for a dialogue with select campus leaders as well as members of the resource team, which includes students, faculty and staff. When Patel comes to campus on Tuesday, he will meet with President Ronald L. Vaughn, he’ll lunch with faculty and staff members, engage with student leaders at an intimate dinner, and then will follow up his speech with a book signing.

His book, Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation , is the feature for the March book club and is being facilitated by Kim Northup, associate director of the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement, and Hamid Khosrowabadi, senior systems analyst programmer for IT. There are still books available for participants wishing to join in this discussion on March 25 at noon in the chapel, meeting room 107B.

“The mission of the Interfaith Youth Core is to create positive social change,” Holz said. “We’re looking to form a student-led interfaith leadership team. We’re looking for those key people to take up the charge and make positive change in our community.”

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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