Reach Higher Showcase exhibits will include student group's approach to interfaith understanding

Showcase is Friday, 4-7 p.m., at the DeVos Center

"Believing and Belonging on Campus," an Interfaith Photovoice project hosted by the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, is a cohort of Grand Valley students taking an arts-based approach to interfaith understanding. Using mobile phone photography, this group of students explored each other's lived experiences by capturing the stories of each participant, their beliefs, practices and values.

Their research is an example of the innovative projects that will be on display during the 2024 Reach Higher Showcase . On Friday, April 12, a sample of the work they have produced over the semester will be presented at the Gordon Gallery in the DeVos Center on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus, accompanied by representatives from the group to provide further prespective on the overall experience.

four students at table with projection in background, SHOW, what do we see in your photo? and other questions
Students involved in the Interfaith Photovoice project meet to discuss their project. Their exhibit will be among the 100-plus projects on display Friday at the Reach Higher Showcase.
Image credit - Roman Williams

“These students are creating a work of visual sociology,” said Roman Williams, founder and director of Interfaith Photovoice . “Their images are research, documentaries, working to provide a voice to their religious, secular or spiritual identities.”

More than 100 Reach Higher Showcase projects will be exhibited, including an array of bold initiatives, educational innovations, technological advancements and hands-on demonstrations from a wide range of academic disciplines and departments. 

The showcase runs from 4-7 p.m. in the DeVos Center. President Philomena V. Mantella will give remarks at 4 p.m. in Loosemore Auditorium.

student talking with laptop open in front of her
Sri Rakumari Mendu, a member of the Interfaith Photovoice cohort, is pictured.
Image credit - Roman Williams
students sitting in chairs in a circle in a classroom, having a discussion
Members of the Interfaith Photovoice cohort, a project sponsored by the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, are pictured during a meeting. Students explored each other's lived experiences by capturing the stories of each participant.
Image credit - Roman Williams

“This is the kind of space we hope to make in our efforts at the Kaufman Institute, a place where we can foster connections between people and begin to understand the experiential differences between students,” said Liz English, program coordinator at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute and co-facilitator for this cohort.

Cecelia Olson, an English major and writing minor, said, “With many people from GVSU attending this event, we hope our images will educate those in power on the faith needs of students on campus, as well as enhance their overall experience with faith in relation to GVSU."

Originally coming from underserved areas of China, Photovoice was created in the 1990s to give a voice to women’s health concerns in rural areas, said Williams. Each participant was given a camera and asked to take images of their health needs, building on the foundation that images and words together can effectively express community, as well as individual needs, problems, and desires.

Photovoice has since branched out into various forms, such as examining community development, international development, public health and education. With the facilitation of Williams, this group of students was guided through conversations on faith, providing room to hear each other’s beliefs and backgrounds regarding religion.

two women greet each other at the 2023 Reach Higher Showcase
At left, Melissa Baker-Boosamra and Melanie Shell-Weiss greet each other during the 2023 Reach Higher Showcase. This year's event is Friday, 4-7 p.m., at the DeVos Center.
Image credit - Kendra Stanley-Mills

Sri Rakumari Mendu, who is graduating this month with a master’s degree in health administration, said engaging in the project has broadened and enhanced her views on religion.

“Being a Hindu from India, my upbringing naturally centered around Hinduism, which has profoundly influenced my religious knowledge," Rakumari said. "Engaging with individuals from different religious backgrounds in the interfaith cohort helped me understand their stories and experiences. I gained valuable perspectives, allowing me to appreciate the nuances and complexities of their beliefs."

Thomas Garrett is a student writer for University Communications. Garrett, a native of Stevensville, is a senior who is majoring in writing.


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