B-port celebrates diversity
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 12:09
In its effort to promote cultural diversity and acceptance, the College at Brockport hosted their annual Diversity Day Conference.
The Thursday, Sept. 22 event was dedicated to the respectful exchange of ideas within not only the Brockport cmmunity, but the global community as a whole.
The theme of this year’s conference was spirituality, state and politics.
Nearly a full day’s worth of lectures, panels and workshops were available for more than 1,300 registered attendees.
The list of presenters included both Brockport faculty and a range of guests from other area colleges and local organizations.
The exception to the local company was the keynote speaker, Arsalan Iftikhar.
Iftikhar is an international human rights lawyer, published author and a regular contributor to National Public Radio (NPR) and CNN.com.
He is also a native of Chicago, but that didn’t stop him from connecting with his Brockport audience.
“It’s nice to not be the only Bills fan in the room,” Iftikhar said jokingly. “Growing up in Chicago, people would ask me, ‘Why are you a Bills fan?’ and I would say ‘Because I like sponge candy and losing Superbowls.’”
After a smattering of giggles, Iftikhar got to the heart of his speech, “Diversity and Muslims in Post 9/11 America,” but he didn’t lose his sense of humor or his connection to the audience.
He touched on hate crimes and the widespread fear of people of Arab descent — or, to the ignorant eye, people who simply looked like they were of Arab descent — after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
He discussed the double standard of the applications of the terms “racism” and “terrorism.”
“You can always take potshots at Muslims and Arabs and get away with it,” Iftikhar said. “This anti-Muslim sentiment and Islamaphobia that has infected our nation has become so ubiquitous that it is now part of our national political discourse.”
After establishing the injustice of the mainstream attitude toward Muslims, Iftikhar turned the focus to the importance of changing that attitude.
He said the protection of the civil rights of one person is the protection of everyone’s civil rights, citing the extrapolation of the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case as being responsible for today’s protection against discrimination in the workplace.
“We have to understand that just because we’re not gay or Arab or Muslim or a woman doesn’t mean we don’t have to give a damn about these issues,” Iftikhar said.
After the keynote address, attendees could choose between six different, smaller panels and workshops. Iftikhar joined three Rochester-area religious leaders to discuss the intersection of politics and religion and answer questions in a smaller workshop.
Discussions regarding same-sex marriage and spirituality, religion in the workplace and the Bible and politics were also available during the morning sessions.
During the break between morning and afternoon sessions, BASC provided a multicultural food-tasting in the Union ballroom.
Foods ranging from Tanzanian fish curry to Indian dahl to Irish stovetop ribs were scattered around the ballroom on tables.
Attendees could sample the food while mingling or watching the unique entertainment on stage.
Several dance groups and individual artists performed for an enthusiastic audience.
A cultural showcase was available to view in the Union gallery from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
There were representatives of indigenous peoples and community outreach programs, information on study-abroad curriculums as well as a collection of artifacts from around the world.
There were two afternoon sessions, the first from 2 to 3 p.m. and the second from 3:30 to 4:45 p.m.
Presenters spoke and opened dialogue on topics like the role of religion in public schools, religious tolerance from the perspective of a soldier and persecution of Christians in the 21st century.
There was also a viewing of the 2007 film Pariah, followed by discussion.
Polite, inclusive, non-hostile debate seems to be quickly disappearing in a world of ever-widening gaps between people.
Given the cultural, sexual and religious divisions that seem to be taking over on the national, local and even campus level, the Diversity Conference was a beacon of hope, change and a gracious exchange of ideas.
“There is a saying that, in order to walk in someone else’s shoes, you have to take off your own,” Iftikhar said toward the end of his speech. “I encourage you to take off your own shoes and step into someone else’s shoes, and hopefully we all have clean socks.”