Amherst College Rising Together to Address Poverty, Hunger and Interfaith Engagement

President Obama sent a letter to all college and university presidents (or their equivalents) in the spring of 2011 inviting them to participate in The President’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge.[1] Tony Marx enthusiastically supported Amherst College’s involvement, as have Greg Call and Biddy Martin in turn.

The purpose of the President’s Challenge is to see campuses develop in three areas:

  • Increase social cohesion by having individuals and groups interact across their differences
  • Increase social capital by having campus groups work together to address common concerns
  • Address specific societal needs

Amherst’s Campus Challenge Committee, made up of faculty, staff and students, has chosen to focus on alleviation of poverty. The committee has set the goal of “75-10-10-25.” This means that we want 75 percent of faculty, staff and students to be involved in some way in the Campus Challenge; we intend to raise $10,000 for the Amherst Survival Center; we will endeavor to collect 10 tons of food for the Survival Center; and we hope that 25 of faculty, staff and students will be involved in some form of interfaith engagement. “Interfaith” is defined broadly, to include any person’s belief system, whether that is religious, areligious, atheist, freethinking or something else.

Our intent is to have a large variety of activities that will be of value to people with wide-ranging interests. We are making a real effort to make activities accessible to staff. For instance, each faculty lecture will be held once at noon and again the next evening, so that those who cannot attend the first time will have a second opportunity.

Activities of the Campus Challenge include:

  • The Campus Challenge Faculty Lecture Series, which began on Nov. 28 and addressed “Poverty and Hunger Alleviation in the United States” and “Poverty Alleviation Around the World.” Speakers included Carleen Basler, Kristin Bumiller, Walt Nicholson, Prakarsh Singh, Ellen Boucher and Deborah Gewertz, with moderator Frank Couvares
  • Faculty and staff dialogue about religion, spirituality and secularity
  • A “Fill a Truck” food drive for the Amherst Survival Center
  • Various activities that will bring faculty, staff and students together
  • Religious groups doing community service together

More importantly, we are hoping that departments and individuals will come up with creative ideas for how they can be involved. For more information, go to the Campus Challenge Web page (, where you will find forms you can use to submit your ideas for activities. There will be a drawing for a $200 gift card each semester for a department or organization that has submitted a participation form.

Please join us in this worthwhile effort, so this truly can be a Campus Challenge.