Last fall, Programs in Religion, Interfaith and Spirituality Matters — Penn’s interfaith group — and the Office of the Chaplain obtained $8,000 from the Office of the Provost to begin a trial year of the Faith Fund, a group which will fund campus religious events and initiatives.
This is the first time in Penn’s history that funds have been allocated directly from the Provost’s Office for faith-based purposes.
According to College senior and former PRISM Co-Chairwoman Roxana Moussavian, the support from the Provost has been a long time coming.
“This is something that has been building up for over a decade,” she said. “This definitely is recognition that the religious communities at Penn are doing more and more things that are meaningful and deserving of financial support.”
Moussavian explained that the Faith Fund will now be “taking over all forms” of support, including public relations services and collaboration on events. The Faith Fund will also be “creating a formal process around attaining that support.”
“The Faith Fund is just an attempt to make it a little easier for groups to obtain funding,” said University Chaplain Rev. Charles Howard.
Howard said the “40-plus student religious groups” will still need to receive funding from their national organizations and sponsoring denominations, among other sources.
However, “the fund is meant to provide a focused source, with a diverse group of students working in conjunction with the Office of the Chaplain to help delegate funds,” Howard said.
“The Provost’s Office has generously made these funds available and it’s already making a difference,” he added.
Moussavian suggested that because of Penn’s secular image and reputation, it has been difficult for religious groups on campus to get financial support.
“Penn unfortunately trails many of our peer institutions in terms of” helping religious communities flourish on campus, Moussavian wrote in an e-mail. “I think that there is a sense of nervousness towards using University money for programming that is at all faith-based.”
College junior and Faith Fund Co-Chairwoman Maria Bellantoni echoed this sentiment.
There has definitely been some “trepidation” about the prospect of the University supporting religious groups financially, she said. “It’s been kind of a contentious issue.”
According to both Bellantoni and Moussavian, this dynamic is changing — and the Faith Fund is evidence of that change.
As the interfaith community at Penn becomes more “diverse,” Moussavian explained, there’s an “increasing need for interfaith dialogue and understanding.”
“Student-led programming that promotes such values will find support and administrative backing through the Faith Fund,” she added.
Both student leaders acknowledged that this newly found support from the University has been a really “big step” brought on by the demands of students.
According to Bellantoni, the Faith Fund Board is made up of 14 students from various religious backgrounds.
“Our main goal is to make sure that it is fair and diverse,” she said. “We’re looking to reach out to all groups so we can better centralize the leadership of religious groups on campus.”