“But, no one is asking for it (a group, an opportunity, a class). Why would we offer it?”
As a diversity practitioner for almost 20 years, I have heard this question over and over again. “If the Black students aren’t asking for a group, why should we create one?” or “If Asian American students aren’t asking for Ethnic Studies, why should we propose one?” or “If no one is asking to talk about race and racial identity, why should we offer a group?” or “We only have three Muslim students, and they aren’t asking for a prayer room, so why should we look for available spaces?”
There are many other ones to add, but I’ll keep this brief.
There are three key answers for me:
(1) Typically, what’s good for groups that have been made invisible that have been underserved, is good for all. (that same logic does not work the other way, FYI. Meaning, it is not true that what works for the dominant majority works for everyone… ya heard).
(2) These opportunities often lead to more confident, engaged, inspired, and involved groups and communities.
(3) Because for far too long we have only told “one story.” It’s time to see/hear/make known other perspectives.
There is an existing danger of a liberal mindset. And, that danger is often a “I’m not ______(racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist) because I’m liberal.” Sometimes, this “We are so progressive” often means we forget the ways in which we are not.
In many progressive, liberal spaces, the topic of religion is often avoided. That’s why, in my introduction or when I’m beginning a workshop, I always share my religious identity — both because it is a part of who I am, but also because stating that I am a religious person who does work in equity and justice means that those identities, for some, are competing.
For me, they are not.
So, what does it mean for us, as a progressive, liberal community to talk about religion?
It means that we include others.
It means that we structurally create space for people to share, explore, identify, and build community.
In a recent program hosted at Park called “Being Muslim”, participants shared what it felt like to be in this space — talking about religion, but talking about religion at Park School.
- “I think my parents would be surprised we are talking about this. I was taught that religion was personal and private.”
- “I am nervous. I’m not sure what to say here. But, just know that I’m a little nervous.”
- “I grew up in a very religious household. Where we only talked about this one religion and was only in circles with one religious identity.”
- “I grew up in a multi-religious community. I had friends of every type of religious background.”
But, what does it mean to be Muslim at Park? What do families who are Muslim want families who are not Muslim to know?”
- “I want them to know that Islam means peace.”
- “I want them to know that there are many different types of Muslims. There are many different ways that people identify.”
- “That being Muslim is both a religious identity but also an ethnic identity – one that is as much a part of me as anything else.”
The program officially ended at 7:45pm, but the “meeting after the meeting” ended around 9:00pm. Parents and families stayed around, talked, shared more, and made connections with each other across grade levels. Just as this program happened very organically, so did the dialogue that night.
What’s next? Many families were asking about opportunities to engage in inter-faith dialogues. What would that mean at Park? What would it look like to be a progressive, liberal school that openly walks towards dialogue on all aspects of identity?
What were your first messages about faith and religion?
How do you, if at all, identify related to faith and religion?
What would it mean to engage in inter-faith dialogue?
Peace and Park,