New chaplain should continue Streets’ work to expand global outreach

To the Editor:

On Feb. 8, two Jewish rabbis from the Slifka Center, a Muslim associate university chaplain and the Chaplain’s Office Muslim fellow gathered to discuss the possibility of a Jewish-Muslim visit to the Middle East. We intended to put together an itinerary that would involve a journey to the Holy Land for half the time, with the other half in a Muslim country such as Turkey.

As we spoke, our frame of reference expanded and we came to realize that such a trip might well engage students from all of the world’s faiths, and that it should consciously focus on understanding conflict rather than just another venue for cultural exchange. Rather than visiting Turkey as the Muslim country, the visit should concentrate on Israel-Palestine. Moreover, as an event organized by affiliates of the Chaplain’s Office, it should pay special attention to the religious dimensions of the conflict as well as possible religious solutions. It has become conventional wisdom that conflict in the world is because of organized religion. However, might it be that it is an absence of religion that fuels conflict? Are there religious people who wish to reconcile, and whose voices are drowned by the political ambitions of others who use religion to perpetuate their worldly agendas? These are the kinds of issues that we might wish to explore.

As our conversation evolved, we considered the possibility of organizing similar travels, for members of all faiths or of no religious affiliation at all, to other conflict regions in the world. At a university that increasingly strives to be a major player in the age of globalization, why not simply recognize the significance of religion in human civilization and seek to globalize the role and vision of religious life at Yale? We could partner with other centers on campus such as the World Fellows Program or the Reconciliation Program at the Yale Center for Faith and Culture to develop unparalleled educational opportunities for our students, who will undoubtedly draw on their experiences when they are the leaders of tomorrow.

At a time when religiously fueled conflict threatens world stability, when some political scientists argue we are living through a protracted clash of religious civilizations, should not the Office of the University Chaplain directly and programmatically address global religious issues? The Rev. Jerry Streets, our outgoing University chaplain, has already taken vital steps in this direction. His trips with various groups and organizations illustrate the global responsibility that a Chaplain at a global university ought to embrace. Our meeting took place a day before the announcement of Sharon Kugler as the new University Chaplain. We look very forward to working with Chaplain Kugler and will do our best to support her in further advancing the Streets legacy.

Mahan Mirza

Muslim Fellow, Office of the University Chaplain

James Ponet

Howard M. Holtzmann Jewish Chaplain

Feb. 11

Minorities have no obligation to provide diversity for campus groups

To the Editor:

I am pleased that the News and several individuals have recently addressed the topic of cultural centers and groups, and I hope such discussion continues long after I graduate this year. However, many of the recent editorials and letters on “self-segregation” misconstrue the roles of minority students and cultural groups at Yale. Students of color attend classes, eat in the dining halls and live in the residential colleges like all others. These activities alone provide ample opportunity to meet people from diverse backgrounds. As students of color, we have no particular obligation to provide “diversity” for otherwise homogeneous groups. We do, however, have the right to participate in activities that foster our well-being at Yale and prepare us to be productive citizens once we leave. I consider my involvement in resident groups of the Afro-American Cultural Center to contribute greatly toward both these goals. If I devote more time to cultural groups than other organizations — and in my case, that’s debatable — then I do so because being of color shapes not only my Yale experience but also my entire life. While I will probably not play in an orchestra ever again after graduation, I will always have to confront the societal consequences of belonging to a racial minority group. Contrary to Dan Bleiberg’s assertion, these consequences are very relevant at Yale, and they go beyond a few offensive articles printed in campus publications. Instead of attacking cultural centers for supposedly fostering “self-segregation,” we should be grateful that they offer a continuous forum for addressing issues of race and culture. As future global leaders, we all, not just students of color, should be invested in resolving them.

April Joyner ’07

Feb. 13

The writer is a member of the Black Student Alliance at Yale.