You’re reading the latest issue of The Edge, a weekly newsletter by Goldie Blumenstyk. Sign up here to get her insights on the people, trends, and ideas that are reshaping higher education.

I’m Goldie Blumenstyk, a senior writer at The Chronicle of Higher Education, covering innovation in and around academe. Here’s what I’m thinking about this week.

As education moves online, an interfaith-education group wants to move with it.

Whenever I hear about a hate crime in America — and tragically, that’s been all too often lately — I find myself thinking about education: Where did those perpetrators learn that hate? And what can schools and colleges do to bring more tolerance and mutual understanding into our day-to-day dealings with one another? I wish I had more answers. I know education isn’t any kind of cure-all against the cesspools of hate that feed this ugliness and violence, but certainly it must be part of the response if pluralism is to remain a fundamental tenet of this American experiment. We haven’t given up on that yet, have we?

OK. That’s my idealistic soapbox for the week. It also happens to relate to this week’s topic, a notable expansion in scope by an organization called Interfaith Youth Core.

Since 2002 the group, known as IFYC, has been making important inroads in developing interfaith education programs and courses at residential colleges. Now, it’s exploring how to incorporate some of its work with the growing online institutions that cater to adults and others already in the work force.

To which I say, Hallelujah. If you’ve been following the work of IFYC as I have since 2013, when I got to delve deeply into the thinking of the organization and its founder, Eboo Patel, you know how thoughtful it’s been in both assessing institutions’ capacity for interfaith education and also in advancing that capacity. It trains students to be interfaith leaders by teaching them how to embrace each others’ religious differences while engaging in shared projects. And it assists professors in developing courses and minors in interfaith studies by ensuring they have the necessary grounding in foundational religious texts and teachings. (Patel also writes frequently for The Chronicle, including these notable pieces about the role of religion on diversity training and the dangers of Islamophobia on campus, and I always walk away a little smarter and a little more inspired whenever our paths cross and I get the chance to join him on his quest for cool, local coffee joints.)

IFYC has always been deliberately focused on colleges and college students, but considering where our country seems to be heading (OK, especially given where our country seems to be heading), I’m heartened to see that IFYC has now decided that “youth” aren’t the only people who could benefit from its formal educational offerings that explain how people from different faith traditions engage in the world.

Patel says the expansion reflects the new realities of higher education, where increasingly adults and other so-called nontraditional students are getting their education through online and hybrid offerings from mega-universities and other institutions offering degrees at a distance. “We can’t only have a footprint in residential higher ed,” he told me the other day (Yup, over coffee).

IFYC is about four times larger than it was when I profiled it, and Patel says that along the way, it got “better and smarter” about how it does face-to-face trainings, including its annual Interfaith Leadership Institute, an event that brought some 600 students and educators from 170 colleges to Chicago earlier this month.

When it comes to online, the organization is just beginning to feel its way. It just hired a well-known interfaith chaplain and religion blogger, Paul Raushenbush, (some may know him from his “Ask Pastor Paul” stint at the Huffington Post) to help build out the program. And IFYC has developed some of its programs with online and video components, so, as Patel says, “we’re not total novices” when it comes to technology.

Although Patel says a lot of what IFYC does now could work well with adult populations, because the organization tends to teach through case studies, I still think it has some work to do in adapting its approach after working for so many years with programs aimed primarily at 18- to 22-year-olds. At the same time, he’s way ahead of me in thinking about the implications of this new direction. He’s considering not only how to provide the IFYC programming in an online format, but also how to train students to apply their interfaith knowledge when they themselves, as professionals, might be using online tools in providing their services.


Another thing I appreciate about Patel is his practicality. That applies here. He sees there can be a meaningful benefit to students. If a nurse trained online is dealing with decisions about removing life support for a patient who happens to be a practicing Buddhist, as he put it, “That shouldn’t be the first time you hear that for Buddhists, ‘breath is life.’ ”

That’s not to say that online colleges aren’t already teaching some of this as information in their classes. But what IFYC wants is to provide a way for students to more directly engage with the interfaith teachings in a more formative, experiential way.

He also hopes the idea gains traction as more than just another diversity effort. “This isn’t about ‘being woke’ or being on the side of oppressed, or, ‘Muslim is the new black,’ ” he told me. It’s for doctors, social workers, business people, and, as he says, “anybody who lives in a neighborhood.”

So no, this isn’t any kind of direct response to all those hatemongers; IFYC’s work isn’t likely to touch many of them, if any. Still, I can’t help but applaud any effort that contributes to society’s learning to constructively value our differences — religious, racial, and otherwise. The more of that out there, the harder it will be for that cancerous evil to metastasize around us. No matter what your faith, I’d like to think all you can share that prayer with me.

Greetings from San Francisco …

I’m a left-coaster this week. I’m spending a week here (following my talk Monday about trends in higher ed to professors of accounting at the annual meeting of the American Accounting Association), getting some face time with folks in Silicon Valley ed-tech companies and foundations — and some interesting people on nearby campuses, too. I hope to share what I learn in future newsletters.

Meanwhile, a tidbit about the appeal of the Northern California market to out-of-state colleges: Riding in a Lyft Monday en route to and from Stanford, I heard at least two ads for Arizona State University and its online program. And walking through Chinatown and other downtown neighborhoods on Sunday, I saw tons of those street banners promoting two decidedly East Coast institutions — Babson College and Wharton.

Got a tip you’d like to share, or a question you’d like me to answer? Let me know, at If you want to follow me on Twitter, @GoldieStandard is my handle.