On Sept. 15, students and community members celebrated Eid al-Adha, the Muslim celebration of sacrifice, in McBride Gathering Space. While many students and community members were in attendance, the empty chairs and tables around the room could not be overlooked.

This raises the question: Where were all the students who flock to Young Commons every spring to engage in Holi? The Hindu festival of colors attracts countless students across campus in a celebration that involves plenty of paint throwing and dancing. Was the Eid dinner and discussion lacking in Instagram-worthy photos?

Food, colors and Instagram photo-taking opportunities don’t have to be present for you to engage in a religious celebration that isn’t of your own faith.

If those are the factors that determine your participation at an event, then you’re overlooking a great opportunity at Elon University — an opportunity to engage in Interfaith dialogue and understanding.

Considering the university’s “Fighting Christian” mascot was changed only 16 years ago, the number of vibrant opportunities we have to engage in various religious, spiritual and nonreligious programming on campus today over such a short span of time is commendable.

Carrie Seigler, the multifaith and intern coordinator at the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life, credits this rapid, university-wide shift to interfaith to strong joint support between the administration and students.

She emphasized that what happened at Elon with regard to adopting interfaith programming is rare and important: Students didn’t have to protest or rally for the administration to validate their ideas.

While Seigler added that things are not perfect — for example, she noted that the lack of campus-wide holidays for major celebrations for minority religions on campus that aren’t Christian are examples of “Christian privilege on campus” — she said the administration has remained open and willing to discuss the ways Elon can expand and grow its multifaith community.

Today, Elon has a platform for religious, spiritual and nonreligious programming that allows space for secular, agnostic and atheist questioning. These initiatives are student-driven, with Truitt Center interns carefully researching and independently organizing events that provide students with the opportunity to engage in their own celebrations and in other traditions the opportunity to learn.

A lot of time, thought and planning goes into these events and students should attend them with the intent to learn and display respectful curiosity. 

Your intent should transcend surface-level ways to interact with other cultures, including indulging in different foods and going for the Instagram photo. What good are strong, student-driven and robust interfaith initiatives when only a fraction of the community takes advantage of them?

It would be a shame for students to graduate Elon with the same religious biases they may have brought to campus, especially when there are so many opportunities to engage and interact with “other” religious, nonreligious and spiritual beliefs at Elon.

We attend a university where Eboo Patel, the founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, delivered a Baccalaureate address, prompting students to take a stand against Islamophobia, and where a Muslim prayer was read alongside a Christian prayer at a spring convocation.

We attend a university that hosts initiatives such as SAGES, a multifaith, multicultural dialogue program that seeks to engage faculty, staff and students in open dialogue surrounding faith, culture, religion and tradition. And where students can engage in academic discussion and inquiry about several traditions in classes offered by the religious studies department.

In a world where current conflicts stem from religious intolerance, what is happening on this campus is uncommon. Take advantage of them now because, chances are, these ideas and opportunities aren’t available and supported everywhere. And if hearing a prayer from a religion or belief system aside from your own makes you uncomfortable, that’s fantastic.

You’re going to face diversity and pluralism in the world beyond Elon anyway — why not start in a safe learning environment where you can display compassionate curiosity?