The Maneater

“Time to Listen” event fosters discussion regarding race and religion

The discussion focused in part on how those in power can help minorities.

The Fireplace Lounge in Hulston Hall was overtaken by the voices of students on Tuesday evening, as the the department of religious studies held its first “A Time to Listen” event, entitled “Race and Religion at Mizzou.”

The event is the first of two planned A Time to Listen events, which allow students to gather and have meaningful and direct discussions about their personal experiences with race and religion on campus, as well as their observations of those conversations at the university as a whole.

The discussion was moderated by Dr. Rabia Gregory, an associate religious studies professor and the director of graduate studies for the department. She emphasized the importance of student-focused discussion and opinions, as well as the fact that students could remain anonymous in their discussion.

“We’re going to start a conversation about how to teach religion in Missouri and about your experiences as students, as teachers, as citizens,” Gregory said. “While the conversation will help us develop our teaching practices here, and I welcome contributions from faculty and administrators, our intention tonight is to center student voices, and whenever possible, students will be given a priority to speak. We want to learn from you more about what your community needs.”

The audience at the event primarily consisted of students, with a few faculty members and parents present as well.

While the discussion was guided by several pre-written questions, a couple of major themes were continually brought to light, including the idea of being “silenced” or being left out when it comes to religious or racial discussion.

“There are choices that people make to not say something,” said one student, referring to people standing by while others are silenced for their beliefs.

Another student commented that being from a small, non-diverse hometown made coming to a college campus a complete culture shock — people being different politically, religiously or in other ways causes a “divide of sorts,” they said.

One student touched on tending to gravitate towards people with similar beliefs, especially religion, while being outside of those circles brings discomfort.

“You feel like you have to be the spokesperson for everyone in your religion,” he said.

Another student said that now they were afraid to comment on other people's race and religion for fear of looking ignorant or offending someone.

Frequent mentions of being silenced, as well as silence from the students in attendance when the discussion moved to more sensitive topics, brought on another question from Gregory.

“What would need to change on campus for you to be comfortable speaking honestly to others about experiences and ideas about race and religion?” she asked.

A couple of students had ideas, including talking to those that you’re comfortable around already to get the subject out there, and providing your own opinions to open up discussion.

“I have to take a stance for what I believe in and what I believe is right, especially if it means changing our society’s views on race and religion,” said one student.

Another student thought that meetings like this one were the key—taking small steps in an effort to be able to openly and comfortably discuss sensitive matters on campus. One student pointed out a major obstacle in the way of that goal.

“Even with little microaggressions, friends don’t hold each other accountable or call each other out,” they said.

However, the discussion wasn’t limited to voicing concerns and frustrations—Gregory also asked the room “how someone like you could help people who are discriminated against.”

One parent, whose daughter had taken several religion classes, emphasized the importance of education.

“Take as many intro classes as you can,” she said. “Knowledge is power, and not only did her perspective change as a result, so did mine.”

Another commented that those in a dominant social position, for example, a white Christian, can use their position to help minorities.

The event, as well as the second Time to Listen event in the future, was created as a result of a $30,000 grant from the Wabash Center to Dr. Gregory, for “teaching and learning in theology and religion.”

“We can look forward to more student and teaching-centered events on religion at Mizzou sponsored by this generous grant over the next two years,” said Dr. Signe Cohen, chair of the department of religious studies, in her introduction of the event.

The next A Time to Listen event will be held on Nov. 28 at 6:30 p.m. in the Fireplace Lounge of Hulston Hall.

Edited by Olivia Garrett | ogarrett@themaneater.com

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