Recently our Executive Vice President, Joyce Dubensky, and I were interviewed by Rose Garrett, a writer for Education.com on the issue of religious diversity among young people. One of the thoughts I had, and mentioned in the interview, is that there are different kinds of difference. Having gone to a prep school here in New York, the first difference that I generally recognized was being one of a few Black students in the school. I might also notice class depending on where we decided to have lunch that day. So, from my high school years I would identify diversity with where I was different. At Tanenbaum, we look through the particular lens of the difference of religion as it applies to diversity. We don’t discount the other factors. We can’t! Yet I think there is value for all of us to continue to peel back the layers of what we call diversity and be critical about who’s different at any point in time. Occasionally, someone will mention my ability to speak in front of people as something that makes me unique, different. I have to wonder in those moments if I’m different from other Trainer/Educators? Different from other Black people? Different from other Brooklynites? Exactly how am I different? And if I am different, where is the diversity?
In retrospect, I wonder who I thought I’d meet at the Interfaith Youth Core “Crossing the Faith Line” conference back in October. I’m not sure. Maybe I hadn’t really thought about who I’d meet, but was rather more concerned with what I’d say. In the end, I met people of many ages, races, nationalities, ethnicities, genders, locations, religions, and belief systems. I met a mini-America. The participants were of a variety of political viewpoints as well—this was neither a “liberal” or a “conservative” crowd. The Interfaith Youth Core looks nothing like you probably think it does, though you probably don’t have a real clear view of what to think. Our country doesn’t have a well-publicized history of interfaith activism. The conference highlighted the reality of who and what an interfaith movement in the 21st century U.S. looks like.
I facilitated a roundtable lunch session called “The Relevance of Religion in 21st Century Curriculum,” and heard concerns about religious diversity in the classroom from educators from all over the country. Teachers, students, and administrators in a variety of settings are finding themselves in the midst of an explosion of diversity in their classrooms, and have not been trained in dealing with it. People are overwhelmed and overburdened, and often are searching for ways to bring students together in celebration of their differences in the face of the often negative messages students get from their surroundings about the meanings of certain differences. I took away a sense of growing hope that there are many Americans interested in healing the rifts between us, even though the process may cause some discomfort.
Selfishly, I must say that part of the pleasure I derived from the conference was purely personal- I enjoyed getting to know new people, many of whom are young and organizing on high school and college campuses across the nation, who are working to make our lives, schools, and towns more harmonious by teaching us how to speak and learn from each other. I was impressed by the grassroots efforts of students and, sometimes, their teachers to put religion on the radar. The feeling of the conference overall was incredibly harmonious, and being a representative of an organization like Tanenbaum, whose whole mission revolves around wanting to support the creation of safe spaces like it, I felt completely revitalized in my work.
If spaces like the conference, and organizations like IFYC, are developing and growing across the country, soon the national conversation around how to live together—in recognition of and respect for our myriad differences—will have to galvanize. IFYC’s work is a big step in the right direction.
*For more information on the Interfaith Youth Core, check out www.IFYC.org.