The White House selected Georgetown as the winner of its Interfaith Community Service Award from a group of 766 colleges and universities, the university announced last Monday.
The award, which is a community service initiative led by the White House and the Corporation for National and Community Service and supported by the Department of Education, represents the highest federal recognition bestowed to an educational institution for community engagement and service learning. The award has been administered annually since 2006.
The Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that announced the award, spotlighted Georgetown’s Homelessness Outreach, After School Kids, Service Learning and Magis programs as some of the highlights among the over 100 university-sponsored service opportunities available at the school. Georgetown was further recognized for having 25 professors teach 40 community-based undergraduate courses.
Georgetown’s selection comes three months after the university became the first U.S. college to hire a full-time Hindu priest chaplain, Brahmachari Vrajvihari Sharan. Georgetown was also the first Catholic university to hire a full-time Jewish chaplain in the 1960s and a full-time Muslim chaplain in the late 1990s.
Georgetown was selected from the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll.
The Center for Social Justice, the Office of Campus Ministry and the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs submitted a joint application for the award in June, highlighting their combined 770,653 hours of community service through 8,135 volunteers during the 2014-15 school year.
The Office of Campus Ministry, which facilitates dialogue and service projects supported by Roman Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox Christian, Jewish and Muslim chaplaincies, along with Buddhist and Latter-day Saints student groups, contributes to fostering interreligious projects for students.
The Corporation for National and Community Service CEO Wendy Spencer characterized Georgetown as a national leader in community engagement in an Oct. 31 press release.
“Service and higher education go hand-in-hand,” Spencer said. “Every day these colleges and universities inspire young leaders to commit to solving problems alongside community members.”
Melody Ahmed, associate director for programs at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, said support from Georgetown’s administration was crucial to the success of the university’s interfaith programs while personally helping her stay committed to programs.
“I was incredibly moved and incredibly strengthened in my own faith and my own commitment to this work by how supportive Georgetown is of initiatives that promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue,” Ahmed said. “That’s why I’ve worked here for 10 years and will continue to do so. Having the commitment of this university, from very top level down to the students, is really incredible.”
Center for Social Justice Executive Director Andria Wisler noted that while the Center for Social Justice was excited and honored to have won the award, Georgetown will not rest on its laurels in its quest to create an open environment for people of different faiths.
“When we heard the news about the award, our day at the Center for Social Justice continued as it does every day — with van picks-ups and drop-offs and Hoyas across the city in schools, at community centers, in homes, on campus being together, serving with and within a city that they have come to call home,” Wisler wrote in an email to The Hoya. “While we appreciate the recognition, our energy to do this work comes from the power of relationships we have nurtured across Washington, D.C.”
Protestant Chaplain Olivia Lane said the diversity of the chaplains adds a spiritual dimension on campus unseen elsewhere.
Hindu student Piyusha Mittal (SFS ’18), who has been involved with the interfaith movement, said she believes Georgetown is well-deserving of the White House’s Interfaith Community Service Award. She said the interaction between people of all different faiths, such as Sharan and Fr. Gregory Schenden, S.J., at Georgetown is one of her favorite aspects of the university.
“Georgetown just would not be Georgetown without its interfaith,” Mittal said. “How many schools have a rabbi, an imam and a Hindu priest, all together? If you’ve ever been to chaplain’s tea, it’s probably the greatest sight. You’ll see Brahmachari, who’s our Hindu chaplain, bonding with Fr. Schenden, who is our head of the Catholic chaplaincy, over ‘Star Wars’ and Diet Coke.”
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