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Interfaith Allyship and Storytelling at Villanova: A Workshop and Presentation


From working as a coach for Interfaith Youth Core to being president of the Muslim Student Association, facilitating conversations across lines of religious difference has been at the center of Ayan Goran’s advocacy work during her undergraduate career. The recent acts of violence perpetrated against places of worship — especially the October synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh and the Christchurch mosque attacks the weekend before her workshop — made giving a presentation on interfaith allyship especially relevant and important.

When activists talk about allyship, inclusion, and diversity, what is usually addressed? In Ayan’s experience, she has found the areas of focus to be race, gender, and class. Matters of religion are often left out of the conversation. As someone whose faith makes up a large and visible part of her identity, Ayan wanted to teach students and staff members on Villanova’s campus about how they can be allies to those of minoritized faith traditions. How can we, as students and faculty at a Catholic institution, advocate for our non-Catholic neighbors? And how can we amplify the under-represented stories of those of different faiths?

Ayan first reached out to two organizations that she is a part of: Interfaith Coalition and Get Woke Nova. With the financial resources from Interfaith Coalition, she was able to order food for the workshop event, and through Get Woke Nova, she was able to advertise the workshop and share the interfaith stories on Instagram. Get Woke Nova traditionally focused on sharing race and class related stories, so her team members were excited to delve into the subject of religious experiences. For the workshop, Ayan used educational materials from Interfaith Youth Core to develop a presentation. The rest of the planning involved marketing, booking a space, and ordering the food.

There is no shortage of people wanting to help — they just may not have the tools or language to do so effectively. Through guiding her audience through the process of putting interfaith concepts into practice, as well as explaining the intricacies of power and privilege, and the common pitfalls to be avoided in interfaith work, Ayan helped those who attended the workshop to become a more capable  ally to those experiencing discrimination on religious grounds. Additionally, it is Ayan’s hope that through exposing a larger audience to the under-represented stories of fellow students on Get Woke Nova’s Instagram page, it can be communicated that Catholic (or Christian, in general) is not the default. The Villanovan experience is the Buddhist experience, the Muslim experience, the atheist experience.
“entry-field”>Ayan was surprised at just how engaged her audience was. They readily offered answers to questions she posed, insights from their own faith experiences, and questions of their own. In Ayan’s words, “religion is not nearly as taboo a subject as we are so often led to believe; breaching the topic can give way to the most beautiful and revealing of conversations.”

“entry-field”>One of the stories, submitted by Ayan’s Muslim friend, mentioned negative experiences she has had in her Arabic and Islamic Studies classes involving ROTC students. ROTC is a program that trains college students to become officers in the armed forces. Consequentially, a ROTC student commented “Thanks for targeting our entire organization for the comments of likely one person, if that.” This was worrying, as the series had only received positive reactions up until that point. Then, another ROTC student commented “Rabia- I am part of ROTC on campus, and I am so sorry that members of my community have made you feel uncomfortable here. Thank you for sharing your story!” I heard ripples of these responses throughout conversations on campus, and the reactions remained mostly positive. What could have turned very nasty, very quickly, became fodder for further and deeper dialogue. What I would suggest to anyone undertaking a similar project is: Be prepared for the negative, but don’t let it eclipse the positive.

Ayan has made the presentation available to both organizations for future iterations of the workshop to be held. Get Woke Nova holds allyship trainings for various groups on campus, and this workshop will be incorporated into these initiatives. Interfaith Coalition, as well, plans to hold a similar workshop for a hopefully even larger audience in the fall.

This action project was in partnership with Villanova University’s Interfaith Coalition and Get Woke Nova.