A collaboration between the President’s office and the Interfaith Chapel brought “The University as a Sanctuary for Tolerance,” a religious tolerance forum, to the Interfaith Chapel on Thursday, Oct. 7.

The forum included a panel that was composed of UR President Joel Seligman, Director of Religious and Spiritual Life Allison Stokes, community religious members including Imam Dr. Muhammed Shafiq, the Rev. Canon, Dr. Denise Yarbrough and Larry Fine of the Jewish Federation and lastly, UR students.

Stokes introduced the forum by speaking about the history of the Chapel and how it stands as an icon of inclusiveness and diversity at UR.

She also touched upon a reoccurring theme of the forum, which was to value and accept all students and people here at UR.

“Each one of us is precious and unique and irreplaceable,” Stokes said.

Seligman then began a dialogue with the students who attended the forum, in which he urged them to relate to those students who had been defamed by harmful language, including online gossip.

“I asked everyone in the room to put yourself in the place of the typical undergraduate student, [who is] 17, 18 or 19 years old, having done nothing to deserve this kind of assault, and try to imagine how hurtful those words can be,” Seligman said. “If we are to build a community of mutual respect, we can’t be naïve about the fact that it is also a community in which we have core values.”

Seligman reminded students that these core values include accepting and inviting people of different nationalities, ethnicities and religious values to come together to talk and learn from one another.

These fundamental values of the community and UR encompass the responsibility to educate people and to “appeal to the better angles of people’s natures,” Seligman said.

After finishing his part of the dialogue, Seligman announced that in response to recent events, UR will be sending three students to the Interfaith Leadership Institute, hosted by the Interfaith Youth Core in Washington, D.C. There they will engage in intensive leadership training that will prepare them to lead interfaith and community service initiatives on campus.

These students include the President of Students for Interfaith Action senior Naomi Ahsan, Muslim Student Association Chaplin Rashid Muhammad and Campus Outreach Chair of Student Interfaith Action Grant He.

“Getting accepted is literally a dream come true,” Ahsan said. “I have looked up to examples of IFYC leadership for years, including Eboo Patel but also [UR alumni] Zainab Alwan and Tamara Slater. I can’t wait to bring back what I learn about community-building, compassion and celebrating diversity for the UR community to benefit from.”

This announcement was followed by a panel, which was given the opportunity to share their experiences and point of view on this topic. After the panel finished their section of the forum, students were given the chance to ask the panel questions.

Students’ Association Vice President and senior Ashley Haluck-Kangas spoke about the Campus Climate Survey, which examines undergraduate students’ experiences with diversity.

“I think the Campus Climate Survey provides useful information… [and] I know that it [is useful to] the College Diversity Round Table,” she said. “To ensure that all students benefit from living with such different peers, diversity should always be emphasized on campus.”

Haluck-Kangas’s comments touched upon the general sentiment of the forum, which was how can UR students create an accepting and tolerant campus for current and future students.

Berkowitz is a member of the class of 2012.



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