Ten years after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2011, Elon University students Rachel Stanley and Mason Sklut can think of no better response than to engage in open, honest dialogue with people of differing backgrounds. A joint effort from Stanley, president of Elon’s Hillel and Sklut, service chair of Elon’s Better Together interfaith organization, as well as their respective groups, promoted discussion on religious and ethnic diversity in a post-9/11 world.
“There were a lot of great events going on this weekend, but we really felt there needed to be a group discussion about diversity and stereotypes,” Stanley said as she introduced the ten students who participated with the concept. They divided into groups and talked in small sessions about identity, victimhood and how best to move on from the attacks.
Students participating were from a mix of religious, racial and socioeconomic backgrounds. They talked about their own identities and placing themselves into others’ shoes. They talked about racism and profiling. They talked societal responsibility.
The quiet conversations lasted an hour, with Stanley and Sklut guiding two teams of roughly five people each. The students mentioned how hard it was to stand up to friends who were being intolerant, the responsibility that society faces to remain educated about differences and their continuing struggle with any biases they might have.
Sklut said that the event was partially his idea, and partially Stanley’s. There were events through the Better Together national organization that Sklut could have chosen to bring to Elon, but he took some of their ideas and reached out to Stanley to co-sponsor.
Stanley said she receives many e-newsletters that focus on bridging diversity gaps, and she took ideas from their publications on how to run a 9/11 discussion event.
“It was a conversation that needed to be had,” Stanley said. “It was planned well in advance.”
Mason said they brainstormed question ideas, but the conversations evolved organically during the meeting. His group focused on personal identities.
“What is identity? It’s a lot of different variables and aspects,” Sklut said. “At a private school where the students are oftentimes the majority, not the minority, what might it feel like to be in the shoes of the minority?”
Stanley’s talked mainly about discrimination, and instances where they had been discriminated against.
“If you see something you know is not right, how do you respond?” she said. “You can feel uncomfortable, or like you’re being oversensitive. But people have to step up, or we might not move past these barriers.”
Though only a few students came, and the diversity was not as great as Stanley said she may have hoped, both she and Sklut believe that the discussion was an important beginning step to building relationships between groups.
“Elon isn’t the most diverse place, but the world is,” Stanley said. “There’s every type of person out there. It’s so vitally important to recognize people as humans. It’s not a checkbox on a piece of paper, they’re humans just like you are.”