A story of diversity, ignorance, social responsibility…and selfies
College is a place for the constant shaping and reshaping of one’s personality and perspectives. One of the both challenging and rewarding experiences of going to college is being exposed to individuals of differing everything: background, race, ethnicity, religion… The list goes on and on. It’s a gratifying experience, as you can learn about varying perspectives on life through different cultures and people. However, you may also encounter some students or other individuals who are consciously or unconsciously intolerant of diverse people or perspectives. Their ignorance can lead to comments and actions that can become exclusionary at best and hate-filled at worst.
If you are confronted with ignorance on campus, what do you do? If one of your close friends is confronted with ignorance, what do you do? If someone near you who you don’t even know is confronted with ignorance, what do you do?
This is your opportunity and responsibility to direct the individual to respect and tolerance. If you’re not sure where to start, I would argue that practically all college campuses have some type of program that teaches tolerance and acceptance. For example, at my school, University of Wisconsin—Superior, we have a surprisingly high number of international students in our student body. We have many diversity clubs; one of our largest campus events is Cultural Night, where individuals and groups perform an act, song, or dance from their respective countries. We also have an international dinner that gives students a literal taste of different countries! In turn, the various countries and students from them are embraced and celebrated.
Universities, both public and private, need to be a safe place for all students to learn and succeed. The point of the higher education system is to do just that: propel students to a higher level of awareness, skills, and education. We shouldn’t just do that academically—we should do this culturally and personally. We are the agents of change, and the college structure actually supports rather than hinders opportunities to engage in dialogue and action to bring equality and acceptance to all.
Another example, one of my friends, Scott McNorton, noticed ignorance in our community and decided to do something about it. His idea was simple: take a selfie with someone, write a caption, and share a message of peace rather than hate. What was born? #SelfiesWithMuslims.
Scott has taken a lot of selfies with a lot of people on our campus and in our community who identify as Muslim. Included in his caption, and now his movement’s mission, is the following: “Combating ignorance and hatred that has developed towards the Muslim community by promoting acceptance and tolerance through pictures and experiences!”
His hashtag movement has gotten a lot of public exposure, and people are beginning to see their Muslim neighbors, friends, students, and peers in a light of understanding rather than confusion or blissful ignorance.
Like Scott, you can be an agent for cultural and social reformation simply because you are an individual who is working to better themselves through education. Why not use this information to help promote acceptance? Your university, through its mission, students, faculty, and structure, are there to help you. But in the end, it’s up to you.
You can find Scott’s #SelfiesWithMuslims page here.