Vicky Gillon grew up in a Christian household and studied Islam during her senior year of high school. In her first 18 years, she learned to appreciate religious diversity but had few opportunities to experience it.
“Interfaith (activism) was not on my radar at all,” she said about her freshman year of college.
In four years, a lot changed. Gillon, now 22, graduated this May from Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois, with a degree in religion and a reputation as an interfaith leader. She has spent hundreds of hours studying non-Christian religions and volunteering withInterfaith Understanding, her school’s service-oriented student club that brings together people of varied religious and nonreligious backgrounds.
All college students have the potential to experience this kind of transformation, say experts on religion and higher education. Colleges and universities are in a unique position to both increase students’ religious understanding and their exposure to followers of other faiths.
“We have an opportunity as educators to set the stage well and give college students as many opportunities as we can to grow in ways that affect global change,” said Matthew Mayhew, the Flesher professor of educational administration at Ohio State University.