University of Central Oklahoma (UCO) hosts its second Interfaith Fair Aug. 25, during Stampede Week. The fair, held during UCO’s annual welcome week for new and returning students, occurs during the first full week of classes. MeShawn Conley, director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at UCO, said she expects as many as 2,000 students participate in Stampede Week’s activities. More than 16,500 students enrolled at UCO last year.
Interfaith Fair brings a diverse group of metro area faith and religious organizations to Broncho Lake at UCO in an effort to help students connect on and off campus with groups that reflect their culture. Conley cited a campus climate survey sent to UCO faculty/staff and students last year as evidence of this diversity. Almost 2,000 people participated in the online survey, and though the results have yet to be published, Conley said it showed “tremendous diversity of religion on campus.”
Though the data was just released, Conley explained how campus diversity was shown by the success of last year’s fair.
“It was evident last fall, when we first had this Interfaith Fair, by the amount of students who stopped and talked to the different organizations and had these conversations,” she said.
Thirty different groups participated in the first fair, and Conley plans to add more.
“This year, we will add more organizations, more groups to continue having those conversations between our different diversity groups,” she said.
Last year, many Christian, Muslim- and Buddhist-based faiths were represented.
Conley explained that the first purpose of the fair is to connect students who might be coming from a wide range of areas to local religious groups. The second purpose of the fair is to educate students.
“One area that I thought we could grow in [is] more conversation about religion,” she said.
Conley also explained that even though Oklahoma continues to grow in diversity, most UCO students come from the state and it is still considered the Bible Belt. Many of them are not just being exposed to different religions when they come to school; it’s also their first exposure to many different things ranging from different gender orientations to different ethnic groups.
Conley believes diversity education is important.
“We want them to develop this idea of cultural competence … being able to internalize their views and opinions about different cultural groups and bringing them to the point where they’re accepting and respecting of the experiences of different cultural groups,” she said.
According to Conley, this is where cultural competence transcends the idea of tolerance, which does not fully embrace others’ opinions. Instead, she’d like them to find they have more in common with other people than not.
Conley also explained that it’s important for students to be exposed to a range of religions and viewpoints while in college because the workplace will be full of various types of people. She explained that if they don’t gain understanding about themselves and others around them now, it will be that much harder when they enter the job market.
Organizations interested in participating in this year’s Interfaith Fair are encouraged to visit uco.edu/diversity or contact the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at 405-974-3588. Registration is free and open through Friday.
UCO Interfaith Fair
11 a.m.-2 p.m. Aug. 25
100 N. University Drive, Edmond
Print headline: Spiritual ed, UCO’s Interfaith Fair exposes students to diverse religions.