Rollins Alumna Promotes Interfaith Cooperation

September 13, 2011

Emy Cordoza (Class of 2006)

Alumna Emy Cardoza (Class of 2006) leads an interfaith workshop at her alma mater for undergraduate and graduate students. (Photo by Laura J. Cole)

A Life-Defining Moment

For alumna Emy Cardoza (Class of 2006), an incident at Rollins reinforced the need for greater religious understanding. But it’s her response to that incident—and the effect she learned it had—that drives her life’s purpose and work.

A religious studies major and devout Christian, Cardoza became a resident assistant (RA) and a peer mentor because she wanted other students to make the community connections on campus that formed the foundation of her religious experience. In the fall of 2003, Cardoza was an RA in Ward Hall and befriended two of her favorite students on her floor, one who was Jewish, the other Christian. As the semester progressed, they grew closer.

One evening, while performing RA rounds duties, Cardoza came across a table on the fourth floor patio that had the planks on top broken into the shape of a swastika. [1] Upset, Cardoza had the table removed and hanged a few fliers around the building condemning the act. “I didn’t want to make a big deal about it,” she said. “I didn’t want to acknowledge it.”

Though the Jewish student didn’t reveal the impact Cardoza’s reaction had on her that day or even that semester, the destruction upset her more than she initially let on. The next semester, she confronted Cardoza. “She told me that my lack of acknowledgment of that incident made her feel that she couldn’t be at home on campus. I was mortified,” she said.

A Life Dedicated to Interfaith Work

After graduating from Rollins—as the only religious studies major that year, Cardoza went on to obtain a master of divinity degree from The University of Chicago Divinity School. The program, which boasts students of many backgrounds and religious traditions, stresses not only religion’s role in society, but also religion’s ability to foster deeper understanding and improve society’s collective well-being.

The University of Chicago allowed me to study religion from an academic perspective while connecting it to my personal faith and values,” said Cardoza. “I strongly believe that my Christian faith inspires me to work for social justice and was able to put this into practice through grassroots tutoring and mentoring programs for middle and high school students at underperforming public schools.”

Today, Cardoza is a campus engagement associate for Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a nationally recognized organization that encourages people of all faiths and traditions to work together in promoting resolution rather than conflict. She speaks to students at colleges and universities across the country, leading workshops that teach respect for religious and non-religious identity, that showcases mutually inspiring relationships—such as that between The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Mahatma Gandhi and Muslim leader Malcom X—and that inspires common action for the common good.

“Coming from a religiously diverse family (my mother’s side being Buddhist and my father’s side being Christian), interfaith work and a focus on shared values seemed like a natural way for me to understand how to bridge divides and strengthen our communities,” she shared.

Full Circle: Bringing Interfaith Cooperation to Rollins

Emy Cordoza (Class of 2006) and Althea Miller

Cardoza and Althea Miller, a graduate student in the mental health counseling program, discuss ways to promote spirituality on campus. (Photo by Laura J. Cole)

At each school she visits, Cardoza cites the incident at Rollins as her inspiration for working with IFYC, as she did in August, when she returned to the Rollins campus and worked with a group of undergraduate and graduate students. In fact, she uses this example combined with religion’s role in her life as way to invite participants to talk about themselves and their backgrounds—an experience at the heart of understanding and appreciating others and discovering commonalities.

Peter Ruiz (Class of 2015), a theatre major with a double emphasis in performance and lighting design, shared many difficult experiences he’s endured, the influence his grandmother had on his religion (Wicca) and why religion is important to him. “For me, my religion has been a grounding point. At times of turmoil, it has lifted me up,” he said. “Even if most don’t realize it, religion is one of the factors that truly makes us human and is the bond the human race shares regardless of particularities.”

IFYC holds workshops like the one Cardoza facilitated with the belief that faith can build bridges of cooperation that are stronger than barriers of division. They visit colleges and universities as way to encourage young people to join the movement, shape the conversation and enhance the role of religion on campus.

For workshop participant Michael Barrett (Class of 2013), this makes perfect sense. “As college students, this is the optimal time to develop interfaith cooperation. In pretty much every system and field of study I’ve looked into, strength and resilience are emergent properties of symbiotically enriching diverse environments, and college can provide that environment if we want it to,” said Barrett, an environmental studies major who identifies himself as an ignostic humanistic environmental universalist.

Thanks to the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), Rollins continues to make strides in educating students about the importance of religious tolerance and understanding and creating a space that fosters interfaith cooperation. In addition to starting an interfaith living learning community, OMA regularly hosts religious events and celebrations on campus as well as workshops such as the one led by Cardoza. “My hopes and dreams lie in students’ dedication toward building a vibrant and spiritual life on our campus,” said Director of Multicultural Affairs Majhabeen Rafiuddin. “As global citizens and responsible leaders, our students will need the skills, tools and knowledge to promote greater understanding and collaboration among people of all faith practices.”

And while for Cardoza, her campus return is another opportunity to make sure people of all faiths feel at home on college campuses; for participating students, the workshop emphasized the need to promote healthy interfaith interactions on Rollins campus. “If the person or people who turned the table into a swastika had attended a Jewish Student Union meeting or a Shabbat dinner, maybe they would have been less inclined toward hate-related vandalism,” said biology major Alan Schmalstig (Class of Class of 2013), who was raised a Quaker but is currently exploring other religions. “I now hope to expand the interfaith living learning community and club by making the campus more aware of our actions and encouraging attendance at events.”

The Interfaith Living Learning Community is possible with partnership and support from Office Residential Life. For more information about interfaith programs and spirituality on campus, contact the Office of Multicultural Affairs (located on the second floor of Chase Hall).

[1] According to the FBI’s 2009 Hate Crimes Statistics, 38.1 percent of all hate crime offenses were acts of destruction, damage and vandalism. “Of the 1,575 victims of anti-religious hate crimes, 71.9 percent were victims because of an offender’s anti-Jewish bias,” the report found. Furthermore, of the 790 offenses of hate crimes on campuses, 97 incidents were based on religion, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s 2009 Campus Safety and Security Report. [Return to story.]

By Laura J. Cole

Office of Public Relations & Community Affairs
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