The University of La Verne’s One Book, One University program continued with the “Teaching, Living and Learning After 9/11” panel which featured President Devorah Lieberman and University Chaplain Zandra Wagoner.
The panel focused on how teachers can approach and moderate difficult discussions in their classrooms about tragic, generation-defining events.
A secondary focus of the panel was how students, staff and faculty can learn to be respectful of different cultures and religions while conducting these discussions.
Lieberman spoke about how tragedies like Sept. 11 can also become learning experiences through the creation of forums in which students can talk about how they feel about these events.
“We don’t have all the answers, but we do have the ability to have conversations,” Lieberman said.
Lieberman encouraged professors to think about how it would be to fit culturally sensitive discussions into their classes, what kind of conversations should be going on and how should they be handled.
Wagoner labeled events like Sept. 11 “interfaith tragedies” or “spiritual tragedies” because they involve clashes between more than one group of people who have different sets of beliefs.
If a teacher decides to have discussions about traumatic cultural events such as Sept. 11, Lieberman said that rules need to be set before the talking begins so the participants do not feel pressure to speak.
Lieberman also said that extra attention also needs to be paid to what language is used by teachers and students.
Particular examples included “to be” verbs such as “is,” “are,” “as,” “was,” “were,” “be,” “being” and “been” followed by adjectives that stereotype or belittle other cultures, races or religions.
“Sometimes someone expresses their opinion and they will start using stereotypes and go down an unproductive path,” Lieberman said.
“No one person represents an entire ethnic group or religion, and no one should be talked to like they do.”
Lieberman also stressed the importance of not assuming that what is said has been understood the way to was intended to be understood.
“I liked the point made about ‘to be’ verbs,” senior sociology major Maria Zuleta said.
“What people say might not be what they mean.”
Wagoner said that there is no clear way of determining how interfaith tragedies can be addressed at universities.
However, religion and spirituality can play a part in helping students deal with tragedies because they provide calmness and personal growth she said.
“As educators of religion we do want to help your spiritual growth,” Wagoner said. “Spirituality is about you becoming a whole person.”
Wagoner also said that in times of catastrophe people tend to retreat into dogmatism, or holding principles as truth without considering any evidence or opinions of others.
According to Wagoner, dogmatism can be addressed at the university level by loosening the grip on religious extremism.
This can be achieved by interfaith cooperation among students, staff and faculty.
Such cooperation is not simply about establishing one eclectic religion but retaining each other’s wisdoms to solve issues, she added.
“(We need to) think together and solve problems so we can find what unites us rather than what divides us,” Wagoner said.
“I believe the most effective tactic to kick-start intercultural growth is personal readiness and open-mindedness to begin the process,” sophomore political science major Noelle Cozbar said.
Wagoner suggested that students become engaged in their communities, involved in intercultural and interreligious organizations and study abroad.
This, Wagoner says, will allow students to increase acceptance and understanding of one another.
Allison Lavelle can be reached at email@example.com.