Students bond over religious differences

Whether you believe in one God, many gods, no god or aren’t quite sure, you are eligible to live in the Multifaith Living Community.

The Multifaith Living Community (MLC), located behind the Cal Aggie Christian Association building (CA house), is a residence option for UC Davis students. Forty students have the opportunity to live in any of the six townhouses, offered to students of any religious affiliation.

Kristin Stoneking, the director and campus minister of the CA House, came up with the idea of the MLC when she first joined the CA House in 1999. There was a shortage of housing options available for students, with vacancies below 1 percent, so the concept of a multifaith community took root.

“Changing the vision [of the CA House from an all-Christian community] to a multifaith residential community made sense and was consistent with CA House’s long tradition of being at the forefront of social justice issues,” Stoneking said in an e-mail interview. “As a Christian organization, CA House is grateful for the development of the MLC because it allows us to live out our values of seeking peace, creating understanding, offering hospitality, and addressing issues of social justice. We envision a world with more peace and understanding and the MLC helps us to ‘be the change we wish to see in the world.’”

Construction did not begin until 2007, and therefore the MLC was not opened for residence until 2008, due to protests and legal battles.

“The neighborhood behind CA House opposed the development because of concerns about student residents, noise and other aspects of the proposal, a few of which were directly related to the multifaith nature of the program,” Stoneking said.

Stoneking fought these issues to establish a community that could serve students such as current resident Karianne Burns, a fifth-year classics major living at the MLC for her second year.

“I really wanted the diversity, especially with regard to spirituality,” Burns said. “I feel like a lot of university activities are very secular and there’s not that much room for spiritual dialogue among people.”

This diversity is a highly valued aspect in the MLC, but this diversity requires openness to other’s opinions. The application to live in the MLC includes an interview, which examines an applicant’s ability to welcome other perspectives.

“Experiencing the openness and welcoming attitude is grounding,” said Cagsar Apaydin, a sophomore neurobiology, physiology and behavior major. “You meet people who share the same faith as you do, but come from a different culture so you get to see and experience that.”

Despite the fact that the MLC is technically part of the CA House, Jews, Sikhs and Muslims live in the townhouses along with atheists and agnostics. Services for all of these religions and more are offered throughout the week and any resident is welcome to attend.

“We’re trying to have an environment that’s welcoming for everyone, so we want to make sure that everyone feels comfortable and that their beliefs are validated,” Burns said.

Krystal Gutierrez, a junior sociology and Chicano studies major who considers herself to be a mixture of religions, originally expected the multifaith center to push her toward Christianity; however, any attempts of conversion to any religion are prohibited to maintain an open environment for students to grow.

“This has opened my eyes to religions that I have never heard of,” Gutierrez said. “It’s been a life-changing experience.”

One way residents connect with each other’s religious beliefs is the multifaith dinner held every Wednesday night. The different houses take turns cooking a meal that is kosher, vegetarian and halal, also offering a vegan option.

Helping to guide this and other events is Chelsea Guenther, the community coordinator. Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, she graduated with a religious studies major from Agnes Scott University.

“I love the multifaith aspect,” Guenther said. “What we have here is pretty unique in the country, helping to develop understanding between people of different faiths and providing a rich environment for students to live and learn.”

Students of many different faiths have developed relationships with each other, and in the course of living together they have created goodwill and understanding, Stoneking said.  Many students have reported that living in the MLC has been the most significant experience of their college careers.

“I wish I had lived here for another year,” said Roxy Donay, a senior psychology major. “It’s like a little gem that not many people know about, and these are some of the nicest, good-hearted people that I’ve met at Davis.”

From celebrating birthdays to asking a neighbor to borrow a cup of sugar, the residents of the MLC are very tight-knit and family-oriented, the reason why Gutierrez chose to stay for a second year.

“I feel that all of us are very close,” Gutierrez said. “We’ve all been through a lot and we all grow with each other, whether it’s spiritually or not.”

DEVON BOHART can be reached at features@theaggie.org.

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