Thursday, December 8

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Minority groups transcend religious, cultural barriers

Twenty black and Jewish students discussed Louis Farrakhan over ice cream in Whig Hall last Tuesday night. The event marked the inception of a group informally titled the "Black Jewish Relations Council."

"There aren't any real tensions between blacks and Jews on campus mainly because there aren't many interactions between the two groups," said Jill Goldenziel '00, vice president of the Center for Jewish Life. The council was created by Goldenziel and Marjory Herold '01, a member of the Organization of Black Unity and the Third World Center, to establish a dialogue between the two communities.

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While some may believe that ethnic or religious organizations are often perceived to be exclusive, there is a growing trend among campus groups to unite and transcend cultural barriers.

Earlier this semester, when a debate arose over the budget for the USG Projects Board, which funds many campus ethnic events, 14 student groups representing 20 percent of the student body – ranging from the Black Men's Awareness Group to the Asian American Students Association – voiced their concerns in a joint statement to the USG.

USG student groups' advocate Chi Soo Kim '99, who helped formulate the statement, said student groups have come closer together in recent times. "Over the past two years, there has been a move towards a more cohesive and unified minority community," she said.

Culture, identity issues

Groups are more willing to unite to not only solve common problems – such as the Projects Board funding debate – but also to address issues relating to their culture and identity, Kim said.

A key annual event for the ethnic groups is April Hosting Week, when prospective minority students visit the University.

"The purpose of the week is to give them a feel for what (minority student groups) do," said Janelle Wright '00, chair of the TWC board.

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A central event in the week is a multi-ethnic study break held in Dillon Gym. Originally titled "Noodle Fest," the event has traditionally been organized by Asian student groups as part of Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, which is also held in April.

Last year, APAHM organizers branched out to include non-Asian groups such as BMAG and Akwaaba, the African students group.

"They opened it up last year, and it was a lot better," said Dao Huynh '00, co-chair of the APAHM council. Huynh explained this year's organizers are including more non-Asian groups and will change the name from "Noodle Fest" to reflect the more diverse membership.

As part of APAHM, the council is planning several discussion tables with non-Asian groups such as Akwaaba, Chicano Caucus and the CJL.

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"We try to plan events that will appeal to the campus as a whole," Hunyh said.

Interfaith initiatives

Similarly, the Interfaith Interethnic Committee of the CJL emphasizes the integration of the CJL community into campus life, said Goldenziel, who chairs the committee.

"The CJL is not there so we can segregate ourselves. It is very important to be interacting with the outside campus . . . and with other minority communities," she said.

Goldenziel serves as a liaison among the TWC, the International Center and Interfaith Initiatives.

Coordinated by Joseph Williamson, Dean of Religious Life and Dean of the Chapel, Interfaith Initiatives is a group of students who represent most religious groups on campus. The group meets once every few weeks and arranges text -based study discussions. Currently, the group is organizing an interfaith service project.

"When religion makes the news, it's over conflicts," Goldenziel said. It's good to see what faiths can do together based on shared values."

Religion, politics

Some, however, such as Rizwan Arastu '98, believes that religion and politics may not be separated as easily.

"Muslim attitudes to Jews is difficult," said Arastu, former head of the Muslim Students Association and a regular participant in Interfaith events. "Sometimes it gets ugly on political issues."

Arastu, whose parents are Indian, explained he is able to better separate political from religious conflicts with Hindus than with Jews.

"My family had Hindu friends back home. I tend to feel close to Hindus," he said. "Perhaps it's a hypocrisy on my part."

Arastu highlighted the importance of the Interfaith discussions between individuals of various denominations.

"When it's a face-to-face discussion, it's much harder to hate people. I see (Interfaith) students as people and see that they have the same religious questions," he said.

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