“Beliefs of St. Olaf” aims to showcase spiritual diversity

Everyone has a story. That was the motivation behind Brandon Stanton’s “Humans of New York” venture. The project, which began in the summer of 2010 and still continues today, captures photographs of average New Yorkers and pairs them with a personal statement. Last year, Kaelie Lund ’16 began her own local spin-off: “Humans of St. Olaf.” This year, Interfaith Collation is taking this project in a new direction. They hope to document the diverse and wide-ranging beliefs of St. Olaf students. Kully Vance ’17 and Kiki Sykes ’16, members of the Interfaith Collation Committee, shared some of their findings with the Manitou Messenger.

Manitou Messenger: So what is “Beliefs of St. Olaf?”

Kiki Skyes: The point of “Beliefs of St. Olaf” is to create a conversation on campus about beliefs while dispelling the many stereotypes of religion. We are structuring it off of the “Humans of New York” project. We like that it looks at one person’s story, listens to what they have to say and then shares it with others. We hope the project will foster conversation about what people believe and how their beliefs are expressed at St. Olaf.

MM: How did you get the idea for this project?

Kully Vance: We saw huge success with the “Humans of St. Olaf” page, and we thought it would be a good way to get the stories out there. We have been working on it for about a month now.

KS: It was one of those things where one person came up with an idea and enough people got excited about it that here we are. It kind of stemmed from a conversation about This I Believe, an NPR book that is a collection of essays centering on the idea of beliefs people hold to be true. It isn’t religiously affiliated at all, and it opened our mind up to the idea that there are so many different beliefs and ways to practice them.

MM: How will your page differ from “Humans of St. Olaf?”

KV: Instead of a Facebook page, we are going to have a Web site. It isn’t live yet – we are still in the process of gathering stories – but it should be up by second semester this year.

KS: Also, it is different from “Humans of St. Olaf” because it isn’t just about anything; it is about beliefs. If we were posting on Facebook, it would be easy for these personal stories to get lost in the jumble of “St. Olaf Flirts,” “Overheard at St. Olaf” and other general posts. We want to create a separate space.

MM: How will your project incorporate different perspectives?

KV: We started out by contacting religious and secular organizations on campus, and we asked their members if they had any interest in being interviewed. Now we are working on coming up with ways to involve the rest of the student body so that we can get perspectives from people who are not affiliated with a group. We realize it is really important, but it is one of our most difficult challenges and we are working on figuring out how to talk to these people.

KS: We are looking to collect stories from St. Olaf students that are representative of the student body. We hope our page will be filled with diverse stories. However, we acknowledge that we are on a predominately Lutheran campus, so even if there are more Lutheran perspectives, there will still be a lot of variety within the responses.

MM: What do you hope this page will accomplish?

KV: I hope that the diversity of students’ beliefs and backgrounds will show through. There are so many individual perspectives on this campus, but sometimes we don’t see that.

KS: There is also a dimension of empowerment. People do have different views, and that is a reason to celebrate. Often people think there is a certain way to think, live and express actions at St. Olaf. If we can change one person’s perception of that, then, I say, job well done. I think that the implications are beyond our imagination right now. Time will tell.

MM: Who are you looking for to participate in this?

KV: We are looking for anyone and everyone! Everyone has beliefs, whether they are religious or not. People who are interested should email us. We will send them the questions ahead of time, and then you can pick time and place you would like to meet.

KS: We have been struggling to find balance with spontaneity and structure. We want to give people time to look at questions beforehand, but we also want to make sure anyone has the opportunity to be interviewed.

If you are interested in becoming involved with the “Beliefs of St. Olaf,” e-mail interfaithcommittee@stolaf.edu.