Interfaith Week Student Identity Panel Luncheon

By: Emily Schroder

Today, March 3rd, is the first day of Interfaith Week 2014. We started off with a fantastic event that brought students (and faculty and staff) together to discuss the subject of religion and identity: the Student Interfaith Panel Luncheon. Often times we think of ourselves as a multitude of adjectives; for example, I call myself a student, a woman, a Panenspiralist, a cultural Pagan, a daughter, a writer, an energy worker, and the list goes on. Yet, rarely do I consciously meditate on how these different identities interact with one another. Today’s panel was all about the intersection of identities and how this intersection influences the lives and experiences of our student panelists.

Interestingly, many of the panelists mentioned their sexual orientations and identities in association with their religious identities. Some mentioned a rejection of their sexualities from their religious communities which resulted in spiritual exploration and adoption of new religious affiliations. Some mentioned how their understanding of their religion validated their other identities, including sexual orientation. Some panelists mentioned that, despite their full immersion in both their sexual and religious identities, the two sometimes seemed to contradict one another. However, one panelist specifically spoke about her search for a community that would bridge the gap between her religious identity and her sexual orientation- a community that she did indeed find in the Jacksonville area. It not only validated her as an individual, but it served to connect her with other individuals whose “conflicting” identities caused both joy and hardship in their life journeys.

Another shared topic of the afternoon was voice. Some panelists shared their decision to remain silent on subjects of identity that their families, loved ones, and communities would not accept or acknowledge. Others said that, through openness and assertiveness, they found a comfortable and genuine place in which they could have their feet in two seemingly contradictory doors. Both silence and expression served an important purpose in many of the panelists’ experiences and helped in shaping their future realities.

Stereotyping was a common topic as well. One panelist shared his negative experiences of being stereotyped and the pain that came from his peer’s attempts at “humor.” He found himself directing the same type of hurtful “humor” at those who had offended him, but realized he was really hurting himself. Stereotyping is negative for everyone involved- this is why it is so important to leave presumptions at the door, especially when entering an interfaith encounter. Another panelist mentioned how sharing her religious identity made her nervous due to the common stereotypes associated with it. Even now, she remains slightly uncomfortable, but has grown in her understanding of herself and her perspective on her religion.

Overall, the Student Interfaith Panel Luncheon was an enlightening and priceless experience. Hearing from friends, peers, and fellow students about their personal journeys gave me insight into my own. I noted similarities as well as differences, each serving as a way of connecting to my fellow human beings. The biggest take-away I got from the luncheon was that none of us are alone in our search. Many of us have been unsure of who we are and what we believe, and many of us have been the objects of both negative and positive reception from our different communities. At the end of the panel, the speakers were asked to describe in a few words what they believe their purpose in life is; the majority mentioned “love” in their answers. This seems vastly appropriate. One of my favorite quotes is this: “Be kind- for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” (anonymous). From the stories shared today, it seems that this is incredibly true, and the best we can do is love one another for all our identities.

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