We all have acquaintances, friends, coworkers, neighbors, even family, that we know, but we don’t really know. They may be of a different spirituality, race, health status, sexual orientation, income status, culture, birthplace, or political perspective than us. The problem, of course, in separating ourselves into all of these distinctions is that it can build up to a “fear of the unknown”. We start to question the validity of these people’s views, experiences, and most of all, their connection to us.
Unfamiliarity with what we don’t know is what causes the dominance of ignorance over curiosity. But it naturally begs the questions, why do we choose fear over an inclination to learn? Why do we choose to judge and discriminate others instead of learning their mindset? Why don’t we prioritize discussion instead of relying on assumptions? What is the harm in a conversation?
As someone that is Asian, Muslim, and female, I derive from several minority communities. Although I do not appear outwardly Muslim, since I do not wear the headscarf, it is who I am and a proud element of my identity. But in many cases my identity as a Muslim sparks apprehension to others. For people looking to break this chain of ignorance and learn about other people, it’s important to consider the best ways to be a supportive ally – both on campus and in life.
Join In – Learn About Things Outside of Your Background
If you have always wondered about the practices of Buddhism, lived in a predominantly Colombian neighborhood all your life without knowing of its culture, or were struck by a reading you were assigned about the history of the LGBTQ+ movement from your Sociology class, college is the time to explore these new backgrounds you may not know too well. The world is filled with all different kinds of people, with different backgrounds, experiences, beliefs, and stories. A small but easy place to start learning about others can be a school’s undergraduate or graduate clubs. Many of these clubs focus on identities, experiences, or passions that can not only be insightful but may even align with development opportunities in your majors/careers. And what about if you don’t exactly “fit” completely? Frankly, who cares. There is a place for people to join and learn in just about every club. For example, there are student organizations such as the “National Society of Black Engineers”, which, if you are an engineering student, you can join even if you are not black!
Be Open to Communication
Communication is the first step towards understanding. It is the foundation of collaboration and inclusivity. But keep in mind, a key aspect of communication is listening. Hearing what others have to say, not just speaking your own thoughts. One great way to be part of the conversation or hear from others is to create and/or attend panels of discussions on controversial and/or insightful topics. My school recently held an event with a panel of speakers from multiple religious student organizations across campus. It encouraged open learning and sparked conversations that needed to be heard. Even if it reduced the slightest bit of stigma over a religion’s facts, it was an event worth participating in. A wise quote I admire from Simone Weil is, “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.”
Support Others You Don’t Relate To
Valuing everyone you meet as an equal is vital, even if their cause is not 100% your own. A key component of being an ally is supporting others, in both good and difficult times.
My school hosted a vigil for the victims of the New Zealand Mosque attack on March 15th, 2019. I don’t attend school in New Zealand, but the outward support to Muslim students not only at my school but those around the world meant a lot. The President of my school’s Hillel, United Sikh Association, Muslim Student Association, Undergraduate Student Government, as well as the President of the entire school, spoke. As a Muslim, this event touched me personally because it felt like my school community was there for me. Whether the support is large or small, the reflection of support can be powerful. It can help create unity and provide the message that all people, no matter what background, are welcome.
Host Your Own Events and Invite Others
Don’t be just a passive participant. Host events and create organizations to promote what matters the most to you and your community. Remember, not everything has to be politics or even huge. Start groups around what you’re passionate about, whether it be your coding skills, your cultural heritage, your desire to raise awareness of your disability, your immense enthusiasm for the fusion of the male teachers in your city, or anything else you feel strongly about. Even if you’re not interested in starting something from scratch, that doesn’t mean you can’t take ownership and action. Look for ways to become part of the leadership of existing groups. Find ways you can help and make a contribution. And invite others, friends, family, who haven’t gotten involved to be a part of things.
The key point in all of this is: find the intersections between communities, people, cultures, mindsets, religions, sexualities, hometowns, races, and all other backgrounds different than your own. You and the world will be better for it.