Apr 292004
 
Authors: Joanna Larez

People of many different religions gathered Thursday night

without the tension, controversy and arguments that might be

expected.

Student leaders, faith-based groups and faculty members making

up an audience of about 50 people gathered on Thursday night in the

Lory Student Center for an event called “Embracing Unity through

Dialogue.” The Interfaith Dialogue Committee hosted the event.

Joyce Bignell, regional executive director of the Denver-based

National Center for Community and Justice, was the keynote speaker.

She opened the event with audience interaction. Everyone in the

room stood up and stated their name. Bignell then gave basic

instructions and guidelines for a successful dialogue.

“You do not win in dialogue,” Bignell said. “You win in

debate.”

Bignell set the first rule-respect. The floor was then opened

for the audience to suggest rules for the night’s dialogues. A few

members sporadically offered rules such as listening, interacting,

avoiding prejudgment, remaining open-minded, avoiding arguments and

having everyone share. Bignell also instructed the audience to use

the word “I.”

“You know what you think and what you believe,” Bignell

said.

After the rules were set, the night’s focus was brought into

perspective. Bignell formulated a list of reasons to dialogue. The

six-fold list was to identify issues and concerns, identify common

ground, identify difference, meet people, have the opportunity to

express one’s point of view and have the opportunity to gain

understanding.

The audience then broke up into six groups ranging in size from

six to 10 people. Each group was formed before the meeting and

included people from different religious affiliations. Group

facilitators had lists of topics for dialogue. The topics allowed

participants to discuss and learn about other religions.

“I loved discussing what I believe and not arguing about it,”

said Lubna Farah, a junior biology major. “The best thing was to

connect with people of other religions, the bad thing was not

enough time.”

The groups then rejoined for some concluding comments from

Bignell.

“The mark of a good meeting is when you’re talking, talking,

talking,” Bignell said. “An hour and a half ago I couldn’t get you

to answer a question.”

Bignell then opened the floor to the audience that more readily

gave its input. A cap had to be placed on the list of suggestions

for future dialogue topics.

“This was a kick-off event,” said Josh Dember, a member of the

Interfaith Dialogue Committee. “It’s a teaser for what we have

potential to bring to CSU next year.”

Thursday night’s event was not the first event to focus on

bridging gaps between different religions, said Hedy Berman,

director of Hillel, the international Jewish college student

organization.

“Tonight is distinguished because it was student-initiated,”

Berman said.

The two previous meetings were predominantly for faculty and

staff and were focused on Muslims and Jews. Bignell noticed the

diversity in Thursday night’s audience.

“One of the biggest achievements (of the night) was networking

to other (religious) groups,” said Mike Wagstaff, chair of the

Interfaith Dialogue Committee.

The audience members were thanked for taking part in one of the

foundational meetings in the anticipated chain of dialogues for

next year. They were also given a challenge in Dember’s closing

statements.

“I challenged awareness in the difference between debate and

dialogue,” Dember said. “And I challenged them to realize and work

(debate and dialogue) into their everyday life.”

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