Promote interfaith conversations
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Once again, there is a grow- ing divide within the coun- try over religion. The current presidential race reeks of racism, affecting stu- dents at Townsend Harris. As an inclusive and diverse school, THHS should try to combat this issue. Fortunately, we have the means to do so: the school fea- tures an array of religious clubs, each associated with a distinct faith, and many with strong memberships and admirable achievements. Though these groups should be independent and should provide members with avenues through which to explore and express their respective faiths, we wonder if these groups could become more interdependent in light of recent events. An interdepend- ence between the varying sects could raise school spirit and offer a chance to overcome a culture outside our walls that seems bent on exposing and demagoguing religious differences.
THHS stresses how much it prepares its students for col- lege, whether through prepara- tory classes or a general rigor- ous course load. However, in a real world context, students are unaware of how to speak about controversial topics in a respect- able manner, as can be seen with the various Facebook fights that begin as debates about politics or religion but end up cen- tered on personal differences.
In an attempt to mitigate such animosity, a single event organ- ized by a diverse group focused on fostering a dialogue would promote a further cultural un- derstanding between students of different backgrounds and would appear more welcoming to students who do not iden- tify with any of those religions. Establishing a club focused on the diffusion and appreciation of other groups may also facili- tate this process. Religious clubs already sponsor annual events that attract much of the school population. There is Bhangra night, which offers students a chance to involve themselves in an evening of cultural danc- ing, Hennafest, which provides a similar form of cultural ap- preciation, and Seekers Coffee House, which is open to every student to partake in. Other events, like fundraisers for char- ity, also invite all students to attend, regardless of religious background.
Such events are inclusive; however, they are usually not the result of a coordinated ef- fort between various groups at the school. In addition, these events are open to people from other religions, but do not in- clude activities or discussions pertinent to them. Therefore, a less diverse group is more likely to attend.
This is not to say that all such events should promote interfaith conversations; Hen- nafest, for instance, need not become a cross-cultural event
that celebrates other types of creative cultural expressions beyond henna. Rather, these events could be used as the blue- print for similar events that are organized by a union of inter- faith clubs. Such an event should promote interfaith conversa- tions, addressing differences be- tween the religions and going beyond one group’s own core set of values. This helps broaden our understanding of the com- plex situations occurring in the real world and creates a much- needed dialogue in an open and accepting space.
In a way, we can look to FON as an example of what religious clubs could poten- tially offer the school in their own unique way. In FON, each performing group has an indi- vidual cultural background rep- resented. Though it would seem as if FON enforces boundaries between cultures, the FONs do not deter people who are not of the same background from joining, allowing the event to become an expression of unity and diversity.
FON attracts a large audi- ence over the span of multiple days and is considered one of the biggest and most positive school-sponsored events of the year. Could the same be done to not only celebrate the diversity of faiths in this school, but to create the kind of mature, edu- cational, and healthy conversa- tion between religious groups that the rest of our country seems so incapable of fostering?