Note: This article is in response to the event detailed here.
People typically form expectations for future events by using the information available beforehand. When I had been invited to the Celebrate Diversity Scholarship Dinner held last Wednesday, I fully expected an event that encouraged equality and celebrated diversity—of all kinds. What I received is the most insensitive and discriminatory university-sponsored event I have ever witnessed.
Listening to actor Terrence Howard give his keynote address was an enormously uncomfortable experience. One of Howard’s messages about recognizing equality focused on the idea that we are all creations of God and that we are all descendants of Adam and Noah. Howard referenced Jesus multiple times, noted that he used to be a Muslim but converted to Christianity, and even asked the audience to repeat the following message after him (among other messages): “I am made in God’s image.”
Again, expectations are key: if I had been attending a church service or any other Christian event, I would have had no qualms over Howard’s rhetoric. However, this event’s theme focused on equality and diversity, and diversity is not limited to race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.; religious diversity is key to a person’s cultural background and beliefs, and to address other important types of diversity while overlooking religious diversity is simply unacceptable. Doing so is roughly akin to saying: “It doesn’t matter what race, ethnicity, or gender you are, as long as you’re a Christian.”
I felt discriminated against during this dinner, and some of my friends in attendance expressed similar displeasure. I urge the coordinators of university-sponsored events, especially those events that focus on equality and diversity, to invest more effort into addressing religious diversity and regarding religious minorities with the respect they deserve.