January 30, 2014

Cornell Diversity Initiative Helps ‘Navigate Differences’

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Students with diverse worldviews and cultures will be brought together thanks to a the newly resurrected Breaking Bread Series, according to the Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students.

The series, re-initiated by Alexander — who is also the director of intercultural programs — will bring together two groups or organizations periodically throughout the semester to facilitate discussion and exchange, according to Alexander.

Breaking Bread, which was began at Cornell in 2007 as a diversity initiative, will launch Feb. 11 at 104 West!, with members of Cornell Hillel and the Muslim Educational and Cultural Association participating in the first meal of the series, according to Alexander.

Breaking Bread is a good way to foster friendship, said former Cornell Hillel President Jordana Gilman ’14.

“The goal is to bridge gaps between groups of people on campus and ultimately create a more accepting and caring Cornell community,” Gilman said. “The goal is not to help these groups find everything they have in common, but rather to learn more about their differences and connect on a human level.”

At each dinner, Alexander facilitates discussion with six students from each group about religion, culture, traditions and customs, she said.

Alexander said she saw the increasing diversity on campus as a reason tore-start the Breaking Bread series.

“Here we have an amazing diverse student body, but that is only step one. Step two is seeing how do [students] navigate their differences,” Alexander said. “Does everybody feel they have a sense of belonging? Are there people who feel they are marginalized on this campus?”

The University today has a dramatically different racial composition than it did in the past, with many more minority and international students than it did in the 1970s, according to Alexander.

“If you take a look at the demographic profile of Cornell today, we have more non-white students than ever before. We have the largest class of African ancestry, more Latino students and more Asians than ever before,” Alexander said.

According to MECA President Mohamed Ismail grad, the dinner topics of the first Breaking Bread will allow for introspection while learning about the similarities between the Muslim and Jewish religions.

“There is more of an individual level,” Ismail said. “What does being Jewish or Muslim mean to you? There is more personal connection there.”

Nina Gershonowitz ’16, the chair of Cultural Programming at Hillel, said she believes Breaking Bread can be the start of something important on campus.

“Our world is filled with so many kinds of people, and I think it is important to get to know someone who is not like you,” Gerzhonowitz said. “The more people you know, the more cultures you can understand and respect, and the better off as a person you will be.”

Alexander said she hopes the first Breaking Bread dinner will result in Jewish and Muslim students learning more about each other.

“We are going to firmly root Breaking Bread and build a campus community where we understand each other,” Alexander said. “Why not take advantage of the wonderful difference that we have on campus and learn from it and embrace it?”