December 3, 2013

GUEST ROOM: Reimagining Our New Destinations

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We’re familiar with the policies: United Student Body, Toward New Destinations the list goes on. Our school, on a multitude of levels, has admirably pushed toward raising awareness among every Cornellian regarding the issues underrepresented minorities face, including the language we should be using to create safe spaces and the responsibility everyone has to help students from these oppressed communities succeed. Even though we’re quick to criticize the Student Assembly and the “administration” (something I admit I’m guilty of too), when I reflect on my past three years at Cornell, I’ve seen these issues pushed into the mainstream discourse around the University more and more each year.

While some of these issues see slow but steady progress, not all of them have this comfortable degree of momentum. While most of the diversity issues are well represented and enjoying dinner at the administrative table, one lonely issue stands outside, in the cold, staring in and wondering why it doesn’t have a place at the table as well. On campus, we neglect to discuss religious diversity and inclusion, and as a Muslim student, I find that troubling. While United Student Body includes a section on religious organizations, our community has yet to be contacted by any student group. Toward New Destinations completely neglects mentioning religion, faith or anything to do with worship.

I know Cornell was founded as a secular institution, and we pride ourselves on this fact and on our open-mindedness, but at times this secularity seems anti-religious. We live in a world where it’s not cool to be religious anymore, and that trend manifests itself here at Cornell. The media portrays my religion as a catalyst for terrorism, intellects portray my religion has a hurdle to critical thinking and islamophobes portray my religion as an obstacle to freedom and the root of almost all oppression.

I identify as a Muslim, and I live my life trying to fight the incorrect narratives of Islam circulating today. For example, Islam teaches us that all men and women are created equal; that humankind is a single nation. I could list other quotes from the Holy Qu’ran that counteract the impression of Islam circulating worldwide, but at times I have no audience. As a member of a religious community, I want to try to educate people and show them my religion isn’t the evil monolith some people make it out to be.

Along with the advocating for my own religion, I am also advocating for the importance of a healthy religious community. I’d love to see proper resources for students, like myself, who feel stronger connections to their religious identities when compared to their cultural ones. Cornell tries to support us, and helps fund CURW and interfaith programming, but the support has a limit due to our secular roots. If other students showed a genuine interest in listening to us, attending our events and learning more about our religions, this would help the religious communities thrive. The initiatives put forth by the various factions of Cornell serve an important purpose, but they will be incomplete unless we accommodate our religious communities as well.

Ultimately, I want to see a cultural change at Cornell, a change where students want to have a pluralistic education outside the classroom. I would love to see more interactions between the religious organizations and the rest of campus, as well as more informal interactions between students in religious organizations and their peers. I know my friends and I are all ready to integrate into the community. The question is — will you have us?

Ihsan Kabir is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences.  He may be reached [email protected]  Guest Room runs periodically this semester.