by Dr. Vadim Putzu
Sunday, February 24, I hosted a panel on how to address non-Christians in the classroom and in the workplace as part of a series of initiatives intended to educate about diversity and inclusion, which will continue throughout this semester with a Shattering the Silences evening with the regional representative of the Anti-Defamation League in late March, and with the Collaborative Diversity Conference in late April.
We are in the Ozarks, and with this undisputable fact come a number of assumptions. A common one is that the people who live here are more often than not strongly committed to God and religion. What is further assumed, by and large, is that that God is Jesus, and that that religion is Christianity. So, in a place where being Christian is considered to be the norm, how does one live as a non-Christian? Discussing this topic we had two respected leaders of our community, Dr. Wafaa Kaf, an Egyptian Muslim who heads MSU Audiology Program, and Rabbi Barbara Block, the spiritual leader of Temple Israel, a Reform Jewish congregation in Rogersville.
As host, I asked our two panelists the following three questions:
- How does your cultural/religious/ethnic identity define your daily workplace/classroom routine in ways that are similar to and different from that of Christians?
- What is the most frequent comment/question you get that troubles you in relation to your cultural/religious/ethnic identity? Why?
- What is something that a follower of another religious tradition has done that you appreciated?
After their initial answers, we opened the floor for questions from the audience—about 40 MSU students, faculty, and staff, plus some Springfield community members—and their thoughtful comments and questions were more than we could discuss in the time we were allotted on a Sunday night.
Despite competing against the night of the Oscars, the response I got from those who attended was extremely favorable—one of my students mentioned how important it is that we have these voices heard on campus if we want to educate the public as per MSU’s Public Affairs mission.