Colin Billings, '13, is not one to shy away from difference. He came to the University of Richmond on an ROTC scholarship and has used his time here working to better understand the community and what he can do to improve it.

“The ROTC slogan is ‘Leadership, Excellence,’ and I think that defines a lot of [my goals],” says Billings, the only one in his family to join the military other than his grandfather, a WWII veteran. “I strive to be a leader not only in the military but in whatever future positions I hold. I strive for excellence physically, mentally and spiritually.”

Billings is majoring in leadership studies with a minor in history. He applies leadership lessons from the classroom and ROTC to his work with student groups like Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, Kairos (a weekly contemplative Christian service), the orientation advisors leadership team, and the Richmond College Student Government Association, where he serves as vice president for administration.

For Billings, an Episcopalian, a key part of improving the community is understanding the diversity of beliefs and experiences that fellow students bring to the table. The Connecticut native grew up in a religiously and racially homogenous area, but has built friendships with people of all backgrounds since coming to college. “I feel strongly that I have something to learn from everyone, given the diversity of our campus,” he says.

“It’s important to know what people believe and be educated about the belief systems and why people think and act the ways they do, because in the end that does affect the bigger picture, both here on campus and in the real world,” he says.

To expand his understanding of difference in the real world, Billings spent several weeks of his summer in the Middle East, first with the Chaplaincy’s Pilgrimage: Israel program and then with the University’s summer study abroad program in Jordan. It was his first time traveling abroad.

“I knew that traveling to Europe would be very rich both culturally and historically, but I thought really dropping myself into the Middle East — into a very different culture — was going to be the best experience for me,” he says.

In Jordan, he worked on his Arabic language skills, which — in addition to his knowledge of Spanish, French and Mandarin — he hopes to use in the military.

In Israel, he had the chance to meet with a multifaith student group at a local university and to visit spiritual sites of different religions. While learning about the deep spiritual and historical contexts of conflict in Israel and Palestine, he and the other students “were subconsciously addressing some of the conflicts we would be facing” back at Richmond. The program participants are forming a multifaith student council, which Billings says will focus initially on educating the campus about different spiritual and belief systems.

“With all of these different viewpoints, faiths and beliefs that are so important and so fundamental to so many people, I think students start to realize that it’s going to play a big part in their development and in their life, whether it’s direct or indirect,” he says. “The people around them are going to be engaging in faith and spirituality even if they aren’t. It’s important to be educated.”