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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Do days off reflect multiculturalism?

Published: September 27, 2013
Section: Opinions

We all know that Brandeis students were generously given numerous days off to observe Rosh Hashanah and many other fall holidays. But did you know that the Ethiopian New Year took place just five days after Rosh Hashanah? Or that this year, Sukkot, the fall agricultural festival, started on the same day as the Chinese Moon Festival, which also celebrates the autumn harvest? All of these holidays remind us that different cultures celebrate the same, or very similar, seasonal events. But I can’t help feeling that we’ve missed the opportunity to bond over these common holidays.

The wide variety of ethnic student organizations at Brandeis—Jewish, African, Pan-Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern and more—all produce wonderful programs, but I believe that we, as students and leaders of these organizations, could do more to educate and unite different groups around common cultural themes, building lasting relationships.

As a whole, Brandeis students are an interculturally-curious group. Most of us genuinely enjoy exploring the global humanities, arts and social sciences through our required non-western courses. Our Anthropology and International & Global Studies departments are particularly strong, as a result of this and on average, 40 percent of juniors study abroad.

Outside of academia, most of us make friends of other backgrounds and experience other cultures through campus activities that are right at our fingertips. We’ve already had the chance to sample Russian, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese cuisines at complimentary events this semester, and 2000 students attended the communal Break the Fast on the Great Lawn after Yom Kippur. Yet how much do we actually understand about our peers’ cultures?

Free food may be the best way to attract hungry college students to events, but it is not the only action necessary to build meaningful intercultural bonds. It is only the beginning. I believe that dialogues and meaningful events between different cultural groups need to take place more often because telling your unique story is the most compelling way to teach others about your culture. Maybe cultural clubs should even be required to co-sponsor one event each semester with another club, to build consistent relationships. Collaborating with a common goal in mind, like community service or fundraising projects, could also help.

The Brandeis Interfaith Group’s (BIG) weekly dialogues are some of the most enlightening programs I have experienced at Brandeis, as they unite people from different backgrounds around a common theme. Everyone brings their own unique perspective to BIG, and comes with the purpose of learning from others. By discussing a complex issue that many groups struggle with, we learn about not only other faiths, but each other, and that is beautiful. We bring out our differences and our commonalities simultaneously. In this way, BIG is a great model for intercultural relations at Brandeis.

Diversity is not 10 students of different ethnicities sitting together at a cafeteria table in a glossy admissions brochure, or the statistics stating that Brandeis students represent 70 countries and five continents. It is a way of life, a way of thinking, learning and expanding your mind through understanding the ideas of another culture.

So, next time you attend an event hosted by a cultural group, try to do more than partake in the food. Instead, find out what it all means. Ask questions and take it upon yourself to learn something new about every culture you experience. It will make you a more interesting, well-rounded and curious person in the end.