By: Emile Shen
The McMaster Students Union Student Representative Assembly recently approved the operating policy for the Interfaith Council on Feb. 25, 2018. The Interfaith Council, however, has been holding meetings since July 2017 and under the leadership of Sabra Salim, SRA member (Science) and Max Lightstone, former SRA member (Engineering), writing the operating policy and making long-term plans since Nov. 2017.
The newly-approved Interfaith Council sought to create more space for student-run faith groups and clubs. Since the restructuring of MSU Diversity Services in 2016, which replaced the pillars of multiculturalism, interfaith, abilities, and Indigenous affairs, there have not been as many spaces for interfaith groups to work within the student union.
More specifically, Salim explained, “[that] there were not many platforms for these religious and spiritual groups to come together and discuss the commonalities of faith in a post-secondary institution.”
The operating policy additionally specifies that the purpose of the Interfaith Council is to work to “address issues common concern that affect the greater McMaster community” and “facilitate and encourage religious dialogue within the McMaster community”.
The chair of the Council will be the next Diversity Services coordinator as a non-voting member who is responsible for facilitating unbiased discussion with the spiritual groups at the table.
Currently, the following campus faith groups are representatives and also voting members: Power to Change, the Muslim Students Association, McMaster Hillel, the Hindu Students Association, the Cooperative of Indigenous Studies Students and Alumni, the Sikh Students Association, the Catholic Students Association and the Orthodox Christian Students Association.
The operating policy additionally specifies that the purpose of the Interfaith Council is to work to "address issues common concern that affect the greater McMaster community" and "facilitate and encourage religious dialogue within the community".
Salim emphasized that the Interfaith Council is happy and willing to expand the membership. “In the coming year, any MSU club willing to join can write a letter of interest to the chair and be ratified by the council membership as a non-voting member,” Salim said.
Salim noted that the process of writing the operating policy was streamlined and simple because of Ibe’s support for this initiative and the enthusiasm by representatives of the stakeholders stated above.
There was much consultation between the leaders of the religious and faith-based organizations, Diversity Services and the MSU Clubs Department in order to create a sustainable and holistic mandate for the Interfaith Council. The Internal Governance Committee assisted in developing and finalizing the operating policy. The council will primarily be under the jurisdiction of the SRA and Diversity Services.
A logistic reason for the establishment of the Interfaith Council was for the group to help facilitate and inform the creation of a Multi-faith Centre and Multipurpose Space physically integrated into the Student Activity Building, which is currently in its design stage.
On the academic side of things, the Interfaith Council has been advocating and promoting the Religious, Indigenous and Spiritual Observances accommodation form.
“This form was introduced to give students who partake in faith-based observances an opportunity to be accommodated for an examination,” said Salim.
In under a year, the Interfaith Council has quickly established a solid foundation for current meetings, as well as future plans. As such, they were awarded the MSU Students of Distinction Award. The Interfaith Council will continue to work with the MSU and community to build relationships with religious members on campus.