Muhammad Ali once said, “Rivers, ponds, lakes and streams. They have different names but all contain water. Religions have different names but all contain truth.” Hope College is a school that was founded on the principles of the Reformed Church of America. Since its founding, however, Hope has changed in many ways, one of those ways being its attitude toward religion. While Hope continues to be primarily rooted in the Protestant Christian faith, it now defines itself religiously as non-denominational and welcoming to any student of any faith. And now there is a new club on campus whose focus is to bridge gaps between faiths and connect students together; it is Hope’s Interfaith Youth Alliance (HIYA). The Anchor sat down with Cameron Smith (’23) (they/them), vice president of HIYA, to discuss what HIYA means to them and to the Hope community. “Hope, ideally should be a place rooted in the Christian tradition,” they commented, “but looking outward and welcoming people who don’t necessarily align themselves with Christianity.”
When Smith was asked what HIYA’s goals, purposes and events are, they said, “We have a couple goals: 1) To educate Hope about the worldwide religious traditions and the religious traditions here, because Hope is not a monolith. It’s not just Christian people; there are other religious traditions here. 2) To make Hope a more welcoming place for those students here now and those who will come in the future.” HIYA is a new organization at Hope, only in its first full year here on campus. With approximately 20 percent of Hope’s student population not affiliated with any Christian belief, interfaith connection is becoming more and more important. Smith commented, “We’re going to be figuring out HIYA’s role on campus as the world evolves this next semester.”
Religion is obviously an important part of life around the globe, and that’s no different for students. Smith went on to talk about what they hope HIYA will become for Hope’s campus as it further defines itself as an organization: “I want HIYA, especially in a post-COVID world, to be not just something that has events and educational opportunities sometimes, but to really be doing social justice work. I really want HIYA to be able to bring groups from different traditions together, whether that’s Hope Catholics, or Young Life or other future groups at Hope for religious minorities, to get together and say, ‘We agree that we need to make the world a better place and we’re going to do that together.’” At Hope, students are required to take two religion courses in order to explore intellection around religion and further discover their own identities and convictions. Most of these classes are focused on the Christian faith, with only two non-Christian courses being available for general education, and with only four additional being available to religion majors. Smith explained the lack of religious representation on Hope’s campus, mentioning that “Hope has a long way to go in regards to intersectionality, and I think one area of that, which is often overlooked, is religious intersectionality. Because there’s this assumption that, if you go to Hope, then you are marginally Christian, but that is not the case. And if we refuse to engage people’s various religious identities, we are going to be failing to engage with people as their whole selves.”
Though only HIYA’s first full year on campus, they are busy trying to cement their place here. Smith detailed that they are going to have regular meetings soon, where people can get together and share in community. Smith went on to explain another exciting thing coming to HIYA: “Hailey Schumann, the president of HIYA, and I will be working on a weekly podcast, with the first episode hopefully coming out in the next couple of weeks, called ‘Interfaith, Hope and Love.’ [On the podcast] we will have guests of professors, local leaders and even other students talking about interfaith on campus.” Overall, Smith emphasized that HIYA is only getting started, and they are excited to see how far HIYA can go in the future.
If readers are wondering how they can get involved with HIYA, Smith said, “Get in contact with us! We would love to talk to you. You could show up to some of our meetings (we’ll have some stuff planned in the near future). Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more info. We’d love to have you and your input, whether you are a lifelong Christian, not sure where you are faith wise, part of a religious minority or anywhere in between.”