A group of York College students in a multicultural awareness class took a trip to Omaha earlier this week where they visited a Hindu temple and a Muslim mosque.
The purpose of the trip was for the students, mostly education majors, to gain insight into different cultures and belief systems.
“This class focuses on diversity, and religion is one aspect of that,” says Erin DeHart, associate professor of education. “For this course, I don't teach generalizations about different groups because this tends to strengthen stereotypes. Instead, I want students to experience individuals from different backgrounds in order to create understanding from people who may think they are very different. “
In a global workplace, this educational opportunity is particularly valuable for educators, says senior Chelsi Reichwaldt. “This experience will help my future as a teacher by opening my eyes to what other people believe and to respect how they worship,” she says.
The trip is not about converting anyone to a new belief system, stresses DeHart. “Visiting different religious centers does not negotiate students’ individual faith, but it does break down fears and preconceptions from both sides.”
This trip was a chance for students to move beyond fear and discomfort over the unknown and explore areas that were mostly new to them.
“I was a little bit nervous about visiting the mosque,” admits junior Jasmine Agee. The women were asked to wear headscarves and hers kept slipping off. Agee says she was worried someone at the mosque would be offended.
“They were all very welcoming, though,” she says. At both places of worship, the students heard a presentation and had a tour of the facility.
During the presentation at the mosque, the speaker was interrupted by the ritual call to prayer—something that was new and a bit uncomfortable for Agee. “None of us were quite sure what to do,” she says. So, they just listened.
Agee says that she has a greater understanding of and respect for these religions now that she’s seen them up close and in-person, rather than through the lens of the media. “I’m going to believe what I believe,” says Agee, “but it is neat to know more about what others believe and why they do the things they do.”
Macy Mountjoy, a Bible major from York, says that having grown up in a small town that is mostly Christian, this visit to other places of worship was very valuable. “I’d never had a chance to interact with Muslims and Hindus before. The take-away for me was that they are real people, too. They are more like me than I expected. I was surprised at how much we agreed on.”
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