by Allie Smith

The question is not how you surround yourself with more people who are diverse and agree with you but rather how you find commonality with people who have differences you don’t like.

Eboo PatelThat is the driving vision behind the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) organization.

On Oct. 15, Eboo Patel, founder and president of IFYC, visited the University of West Georgia as the featured speaker for the College of Education’s 2019 Dag Folger Speaker Series.

Patel speaks to students and faculty across the country, challenging them to foster commonality in all areas of their lives and inspiring them to become interfaith leaders in their respective fields.

“As America becomes more religiously diverse, having the skills and knowledge in interfaith cooperation is going to be really important,” Patel told a packed audience at the Townsend Center for the Performing Arts.

Throughout the talk, Patel shared stories of his own personal experiences growing up in a community that was unaware of the way to approach religious diversity. He conveyed how these experiences shaped him to be an advocate for interfaith commonality.

COE Dean Dr. Dianne Hoff
COE Dean Dr. Dianne Hoff

“My purpose in educating people is so that they can be better people, citizens and employees in a diverse society,” he explained.

Patel believes that the most influential force in creating a cooperative society is the education system and the leaders within it.

“How do you build a diverse democracy?” he asked. “It’s in the hands of the people who run our schools.”

Patel emphasized to the current and future educators in the audience that it is their duty to not only be effective and educated citizens regarding religious cooperation, but it is also their responsibility to create situations that foster commonality for their students and their schools.

“Ask yourself, how do I help that group of people cooperate better?” he charged. “As a teacher walking in on the first day, that should be your challenge.”

While Patel spoke on creating these situations of interfaith commonality as an educator for students, he said the best way to be an interfaith leader in any capacity is to demonstrate cooperation with your own actions.

Eboo Patel
Patel held a book signing following the lecture.

“As an authority figure, you set the tone,” said Patel. “You are in a position in which you have to proactively lean into religious diversity.”

Patel began his visit at UWG by leading a discussion of his book, “Out of Many Faiths,” with faculty and staff. He then sat down with education students and student leaders for an open dialogue on diversity and inclusion.

COE Dean Dr. Dianne Hoff stated that the Dag Folger Speaker Series is a way to present students, faculty and the community with an opportunity to learn more about their fields from experts.

“We want to ensure that the next generation of educators, health and wellness professionals, and leaders get the kind of support they need,” said Hoff. “This event is an example of that.”

Photography by Miranda Daniel

Posted on October 16, 2019