The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

The Student News Site of Grand Valley State University

Grand Valley Lanthorn

Photography and faith: GV cohort captures diverse student experiences

Courtesy | GVSU

Since early February, Grand Valley State University’s Kaufman Interfaith Institute has been working with Interfaith Photovoice to create a cohort of GVSU students. 

In the program, students of various faith backgrounds utilize smartphone photography to capture visual representations of subject matter related to a prompt that changes weekly. The students then come together to share their photos as a group and engage in a guided discussion. In doing so, students examine an array of diverse experiences through a shared medium. 

Roman R. Williams, Ph.D., founder of Interfaith Photovoice, describes the organization as “an arts-based approach to interfaith understanding.” Their collaboration with the Kaufman Interfaith Institute gives students the opportunity to explore photography in an accessible way and simultaneously strengthen interfaith relationships in the GVSU community. 

“This (the student cohort) has been an opportunity to listen to these fantastic students as they come together to explore what it means to believe, belong or just ‘be’ on campus through the lens of smartphone photography,” said Liz English, Kaufman Interfaith Institute’s program coordinator and cohort facilitator.

A major goal of the cohort is to foster relationships with students across different worldviews and backgrounds. English said the first step in this process is simply taking a step back to listen to students about their experiences.

“We cannot possibly provide support for students of diverse worldview identities without first listening to them,” English said. “I recognize that the experiences of one Hindu student or one Christian student does not equate to another’s, nor do they encapsulate the huge internal diversity of either of their traditions, but it’s a place to start.” 

This experience aims to help people share their diverse backgrounds and experiences to personally connect individuals in the student body.

One of the participants in the cohort, Franklin Specter, a student-intern at the Kaufman Interfaith Institute, said he chose to participate so he could get to know his fellow interns. As a result, Specter said he found himself regularly conversing with individuals of different backgrounds and faiths, which was cultivated in the cohort. 

“It is awesome that the (Interfaith) Photovoice group and myself choose to sit ourselves down and have these interesting engagements,” Specter said. “Exposing ourselves to each other’s lives and perspectives through this process has given us all a chance to grow.” 

Additionally, Specter said being exposed to varying perspectives has allowed him to critically examine his habits and engagements with others. Specter said he believes this will help him make positive changes in his life.

“Going into next year and those beyond, I think I’ll be able to change my approach and alter some parts of my life that have been less than desired this year,” Specter said. “If I were to break it down into a few simple words, I’d say I’ve gotten wisdom and clarity out of (Interfaith) Photovoice.”

The project will culminate in a pop-up exhibition on April 11, in which the photographs taken by the cohort will be on display in the Kirkhof Center lobby. The exhibition will run from 10 a.m.-5 p.m., with cohort members available to discuss their photos.

On April 12, the project will be on display in the George and Barbara Gordon Gallery at GVSU’s Pew Campus during the President’s Reach Higher Showcase. From there, the exhibition will move to the Kaufman Interfaith Institute space at GVSU’s Health Campus in Grand Rapids.

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