Normally, Dunn Meadow serves as a low-key backyard for Indiana University students throwing Frisbees or finishing up class assignments. But on a Saturday night in early September, Dunn Meadow shook with the sounds of Nigerian, Taiwanese and other world music, 200 enthusiastic students grooving to new beats and glow sticks lighting up the night sky.
The event was an international dance party hosted by InterVarsity students as a way to celebrate ethnicities and reach out to the campus.
“On our campus and most any college campus, parties are a main attraction—let’s be honest,” said Rachael Henson, a fifth-year senior involved in InterVarsity. “And dancing is something people from all over the world can relate to in some way.”
The event allowed InterVarsity students to connect with their peers and build mutual respect between InterVarsity and other campus organizations.
A Passion for Ethnicity and Music
The idea for the dance party came about in a brainstorm session after the 2008-2009 school year during one of InterVarsity’s Chapter Focus Weeks, a week of spiritual training and preparation for the coming year. Student leaders planning for this fall’s New Student Outreach wondered how they could use their specific interests to connect with the whole campus.
“We’ve had several spontaneous dance parties in the past,” said staff member Mark Abdon about IU’s InterVarsity chapter. “We have a love for music in our community.”
That love coupled with a growing passion for the diverse student population on campus produced the idea for a swinging dance party involving different ethnicities on campus.
“We have a God who celebrates ethnicity and culture,” said Mark. Instead of forming an exclusive community of stagnant Christians, the chapter has a desire to share how God loves the ethnic diversity that He created.
Demonstrating God’s Love
The chapter’s student leaders put this desire into action by partnering with ethnic-specific groups. Six campus organizations representing students from such countries as Japan, Nigeria, China, and Tawian composed playlists of world music on CDs and iPods, while a local DJ volunteered his time and an excellent sound system for the event. “You could hear [the music] all over campus,” said Mark, laughing.
Each ethnic group shared briefly about their culture and musical traditions, but the dancing itself required no explanations. Students jumped onto the dance floor with their own moves, adapting to the changing music.
Whether dancing or on the sidelines, Rachael and other InterVarsity members initiated conversations with participating students. Many non-Christian students enter college with a distorted view of Christianity or a painful experience with religious events. This celebration created an open and safe environment to demonstrate a love for students as creations of God, no matter their racial background. “It was a blessing to share with our campus that there are Christians interested in being united through ethnicity and God’s love,” said Rachael.
Already, InterVarsity students’ respect towards other campus organizations has affected the campus groups involved. Members from the Japanese Student Association were greatly honored that InterVarsity asked them to share their music. As the first chords rang out, they ran to the center of the dance floor and waved the Japanese flag, while other students circled around them to dance.
“There was a real sense of pride,” said Mark, who saw this as the highlight of the evening. “They appreciated the opportunity to partner with a mostly Caucasian group.”
IU’s Union Board, who helped sponsor the event, also responded well to InterVarsity’s efforts to reach out. Mark is confident that they will want to collaborate again with InterVarsity.
“It was a positive experience,” said Mark. “Several people were surprised that a Christian organization would take time to put something like this on.”
This fall, InterVarsity chapters nationwide are hosting events like the international dance party to meet students and begin building relationships where God can be revealed.
“We should love people of every culture, gender, and sexual orientation, just like Jesus would,” said Rachael. “This campus event was a great step in showing that. We could preach that or say it all we want, but I believe we followed through in showing it with this celebration.”