Interfaith discussion group moves toward social action

Co-Presidents of CAFE Tufts Interfaith Student Coalition, Andrew Schloss and Ann-Marie Lee, pose for a portrait. (Jiayi (Frank) Ma / The Tufts Daily)

Conversation Action Faith and Education (CAFE) is undergoing reorganization this semester, in the hope of increasing its membership and activism.

The most immediately noticeable move planned by the group is a change of their name, swapping CAFE for COFFEE, Community OF Faith Exploration and Engagement, according to CAFE co-president Ann-Marie Lee. She said the name change was part of the group’s updated constitution which is pending approval from the Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate.

 Lee, a sophomore, explained she hoped this name would show a connection with the pre-orientation program of the same name while also marking it as a separate entity, something that was not clear during the organization’s first year of existence.

The group is also working on becoming a larger force in the Tufts activism community.

“We had a lot of conversations, we had a lot of interfaith people, we had a lot of education, but we really missed out on action,” sophomore Andrew Schloss, co-president of CAFE, said.

One of the ways the group is aiming to do this is by constructing an interfaith library, a project led by sophomore Sal Herrera-Montesdeoca, who is a representative on the interfaith student council, a group run by the Tufts University Chaplaincy which brings together members from various student religious organizations. CAFE is meeting in November to compile a list of books to buy, and will use funds allotted to them from TCU Senate and the chaplaincy, as well as private donations, to start putting together the library’s collection, Lee said.

While the library is an internal project, the group is also looking beyond itself to work on social justice projects. According to Lee, CAFE co-sponsors a  Buddhist Mindfulness Sangha event that intends to provide a space for conversation and collective action. Discussion topics include Hurricanes Harvey and Irma or the Northern California wildfires.

CAFE is also discussing a partnership with another relatively new club on campus, the Left Unity Project (LUP), an organization dedicated to uniting Tufts’ social justice clubs to fight what it sees as oppressive systems. Lee said that the two groups are planning to work together to host a teach-in on colonialism, disaster relief and action in Puerto Rico. Lee is also a member of LUP.

This is new ground for CAFE, Schloss noted.

“We don’t really have a history of working with social justice organizations,” he said, adding that there was some trepidation among members of the group at attaching themselves to the LUP, which is on record as an anti-capitalist organization.

Lee, on the other hand, saw no problem with the partnership and noted that the groups are working together based on a shared interest in disaster relief, rather than identical ideologies.

“CAFE is not endorsing LUP or endorsing any of LUP’s beliefs,” she said. “This is one step we’re taking towards CAFE’s goal of social justice.” She noted the similarities between the goals of the events CAFE is co-sponsoring with the Buddhist Sangha as well as the one with LUP as evidence that the group’s cooperation is rooted in single issues, rather than ideologies.

The group is moving their monthly meeting time to the weekends, to accommodate the members’ schedules, Lee said.

Beyond scheduling, CAFE’s meetings themselves will also be different.  Rather than formal discussions, the group’s organizers want to hold more casual ‘coffee house’-style meetings, according to Lee and Herrera-Motesdeoca. 

Schloss, Herrera-Motesdeoca and Lee all hope that CAFE can grow into a club for all members of the Tufts community, not only ones directly involved in religious organizations.

Herrera-Montesdeoca believes religion could play a more public role on campus given its importance to many members of the Tufts community.

“Currently there isn’t a big role for religion on campus because it’s not really an encouraged thing, but it’s a big part of many people’s identities,” he said.

Lee also emphasized that CAFE is a space for non-religious students as well as the more devout.

“You don’t have to be a part of a faith community on campus to be a person of faith on campus,“ she said. “We try to be very intentional in creating a space for non-religious students to attend to foster that interfaith dialogue.”

Schloss explained that the organization’s new focus on social justice highlights what unifies members of CAFE.

“What CAFE sees as an important unifying point between all of these stories and all of these people is the commonality of making the world a more just place,” he said.