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Students Recognized at Religious Freedom and Inclusion Conference in Washington, D.C.

BYUH students on stage with a man standing at event podium during the closing awards ceremony at the Dare to Overcome conference.

Fourteen Brigham Young University–Hawaii students participated in the Dare to Overcome Conference in Washington, D.C., an event sponsored by the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation this past May. The conference promoted the principle of inclusion and religious freedom in the workplace. Representatives from Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Ford, and American Airlines attended and participated in panels and speeches where discussions on how businesses could make religious employees feel welcome should be part of a company's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Students could network with these professionals while serving as student "interns" or "company liaisons" throughout the three-day event. Out of the 18 student interns, BYUH students made up 14 of those instrumental in ensuring the event ran smoothly for the 250+ attendees.

John Lidang, a junior majoring in political science, was one student who benefitted from the overall experience. The trip presented students like John with a chance to network with business professionals and discover the impact of religious inclusion in the workplace and global community. Recounting the recent experience, Lidang shared, "in an increasingly polarized society, promoting religious inclusion for people with and without faith can cultivate an environment of tolerance, incorporation, and understanding that positively influences relationships and connections." He's since had an increased desire to foster friendships with people of all faiths stating, "we share more in common and can accomplish greater things together than by ourselves."

Regina Shumway, a senior majoring in political science, also commented on her experience at the conference, saying it "felt amazing to be so useful in the behind-the-scenes work" before and during the event. For Shumway, preparation for this occasion started months before the conference. In January of this year, Brian Grim, global chairman of the Religious Freedom & Business Foundation, partnered with BYUH students on the REDI index project. Assigning students the task of scoring Fortune 500 companies on how well they portrayed religious freedom within their diversity and inclusion webpages. "It was a lot of work, but I was happy to do it because I wanted to help highlight the importance of religion in the workplace...I was surprised by how many companies did not consider including religion as a factor of interest for potential employees."

After participating in this preliminary work, Shumway came away from the conference feeling proud of her accomplishments and enlighted by her experiences. She explained how she loved having an opportunity to meet a wide variety of people of different faiths as a "nice change of pace." Explaining that although the cultural diversity in Laie is high, religious diversity is relatively low." Learning about others' spiritual practices in that setting was positive and uplifting for her and her fellow student interns. Adding, "It reminded me of the counsel from our church's leaders about cultivating interfaith relations and, more importantly, action to preserve the right of all humans to worship how and what we see fit."

At the close of the conference, Paul Lambert, the event's co-organizer, brought students onto the stage to thank them for their hard work and effort in making the event a success. The students then received a standing ovation from the conference attendees. Days following the event, Brian Grim also thanked Professor Dr. Troy Smith for partnering with and involving such phenomenal students. He later described them as "tremendous ambassadors not only of BYU–Hawaii and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but also of religious freedom in practice."