“UMBC is one of the most diverse campuses in the nation, and we value the richness that such diversity brings to campus life. Through the Mosaic: Center for Culture and Diversity and the Interfaith Center, we support students in building their awareness and knowledge of diverse people, cultures and belief systems.”
That is the Diversity and Inclusion statement posted on UMBC’s Student Life website and, although many students have never visited the IFC, most would agree that UMBC is a seriously diverse campus.
The Interfaith Center is located directly behind Susquehanna Hall in a designated trailer unit, which, depending on where you live on campus, is easy to miss. Despite its not-so-glamorous location on campus, it is a vital to UMBC. It is a quiet space for personal and communal reflection in contrast to the hustle and bustle of a college campus.
Although all students, staff and faculty are welcomed to the IFC, it is most often used by numerous student-led groups. One of its most frequent patrons is the Muslim Student Association, which consists of over three hundred active members. Tasnem Abukhdeir, senior health administration and public policy major, sociology minor and MSA president, described the IFC as a “second home” for them. “We are constantly using it. I doubt you can ever stop by and not find at least one or two, if not more, MSA members there. Aside from using it for praying, which happens multiple times every day, we use it for our small scale events. We have about three weekly activities: one for the brothers, one for the sisters and one combined.”
“The IFC is easily the most comfortable place on campus for our members. It is the go to spot for both chill and spiritual sessions. Members from other faiths are really cooperative and friendly, which allows for a very healthy atmosphere,” said Abukhdeir. “The IFC is important to our campus because it allows students to meet and befriend people they share something in common with. It allows for students to build their spirituality, which has proven to even help some excel in their academics.”
Lisa Gray, assistant director of student life cultural and spiritual diversity and a nine-year veteran of the UMBC Mosaic Center and IFC, manages all student interactions with the IFC and oversees the general care of the facility.
“What I love the most about the IFC and Mosaic Center is being able to see and be a part of students finding their voices and developing self agency, whether it relates to their social, gender, sexual, spiritual or religious identities,” said Gray. “It is amazing to, at first, meet students as freshmen, who are maybe unsure of their identities and feel lost in the college environment, but then seeing how well they’ve developed and grown over the course of their four (or more) years on campus.”
The IFC may be located in a trailer, but if that’s all you focus on, you’re missing the point. According to Gray, “It is not so much the physical space that really matters. It’s about students being able to find spiritual and religious community in their peers. It’s about the mutual respect and independent learning within the IFC between varying cultures. The IFC is really a model for the rest of the campus, and for all campuses that they may provide safety and support.”
Although the meaning behind the IFC is much more important than the facility itself, Gray spoke of future plans for the Center. “As far as the facility goes, we hope to move the center into a currently existing building or maybe a new building that will be added in the future. To the UMBC community, we want to offer more dedicated forms of education at the Center. All in all, we want to continue fostering spiritual growth and turning the individuals of UMBC into holistic beings.”
To read more about the Mosaic Center and the IFC, visit their information page on the Student Life website, or their myUMBC page.