Interfaith at UNC, mending the divide

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Activist Kinza Khan. Photo by Abbigail Andersen.

Activist Kinza Khan gave a lecture on Wednesday on “Interfaith Work in a Divided World,” as part of the Life of Mind Schulze Speaker Series, a program that brings various reputable speakers with interdisciplinary perspectives on an array of issues to the University of Northern Colorado’s campus. This program is used as an educational and eye-opening tool for students and staff alike on topics such as ecological crises, social justice and film/media.

Khan shared the personal experiences of her work with a crowded room of ears “in hopes they would walk away with a new desire to broaden their horizons across cultures, religions and differences.”

“We’ll often think of [society] as, ‘Oh, I have to choose a side’ without realizing that there are some other cool and creative ways to be able to just get to know one another and do some of both,” Khan said.

Khan has a diverse occupational background that allowed her to speak thoughtfully on such issues throughout the event. During the day, Khan is an attorney at Life Span Legal Services and Advocacy for victims of domestic and sexual violence. She also works as an educator and trainer for HEART Women and Girls, an organization focusing on the advocacy and education of sexual health and sexual violence issues in Muslim American communities.

In addition, Khan has been a part of the Alumni Speakers Bureau for non-profit Interfaith Youth Core, speaking at various schools and panels on interfaith for several years.

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“UNC and other colleges or events will contact one of us at Interfaith Youth Core if they want a speaker, depending on what type of speaker they want,” Khan said. “They took really good care of me here and allowed me to acclimate to the environment before my talk, so I really enjoyed working with everyone here at UNC. It was nice.”

UNC professor Liane Ortis and Talia Carroll, director of the Marcus Garvey Cultural Center, also attended the lecture. They are both co-chairs of the new on-campus Interfaith Engagement Committee. Ortis and Carroll were just a couple of the many people able to put on and make the event as welcoming as possible for Khan.

“Liane and I host this committee of folks,” Carroll said, “and when we received the Schulze Speaker Series funds, we thought about how we could really increase interfaith participation on campus by creating this first-ever Interfaith/Multifaith Awareness Week, the highlight being a speaker who has had experience with interfaith work.”

The Interfaith Engagement Committee seeks to gain the interest of students in the involvement and exploration of interfaith dialogues. As the committee furthers its education on interfaith, there are hopes that growth will occur among UNC in exactly what speaker Kinza Khan noted in her lecture.

“Stepping outside of our comfort zones and really getting to know people, as well as allowing people to get to know us [is most important],” Carroll said. “I think it’s when we can really see people’s humanity and not be scared or have problematic perceptions about who people are that we can really necessarily start to bridge the gap between one another and build those important relationships.”

Although nothing is yet solidified for the coming months, the committee plans to soon host another professional development event. The committee also intends on hosting one to two more focus groups allowing feedback from the campus community on how it is engaging in interfaith work or what it would like to see from UNC on interfaith work.

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