Wooster students stand up for civility

Campus embraces Muslim colleagues, denounces burning

By Carol Biliczky
Beacon Journal staff writer

Published on Friday, Sep 10, 2010. Available on Ohio.com

The Rev. Terry Jones might have had some support in his plan to burn copies of the Muslim holy book to mark the 9/11 anniversary. But Jones, a pastor in Florida, had precious little encouragement at the College of Wooster.

Students banded together at the private Wayne County college to embrace their Muslim colleagues — some 25 among 118 students from other countries on the campus of almost 2,000. They pinned newly minted ”Real Americans don’t burn books” buttons to their sweatshirts. They reaffirmed the college’s years-old ”civility pledge” to ”respect the commonalities and differences among us.”

”I’ve heard some rumblings that, well, people burn American flags all the time,” said senior Brendan Horgan, an urban studies major from Hudson who aspires to graduate school or a job in policy development. ”But we all believe that it’s worthwhile to strive for the ideal of a peaceful global society.”

The college’s Center for Diversity and Global Engagement launched the civility initiative after a campuswide observance of the Muslim custom of Ramadan drew about 100 students and city residents Monday.

”We decided we needed to do something that reached more people,” said Amyaz Moledina, a Muslim from the East African country of Tanzania who co-directs the center.

Wooster President Grant Cornwell addressed students Thursday afternoon, signed a poster board endorsing the policy and encouraged students to do the same.

The student group Advocates for Diversity already was on board, adopting hate crimes as its theme for the year, said Taylor Keegan, a senior political science major from Reading, Pa.

Yet while there have been some ugly incidents in the past — exhibits on the Berlin Wall were knocked down and ripped apart a ways back, for instance — even Muslim students seem comfortable on the tree-lined campus nestled in the country.

”This has been an amazing opportunity for me to share my culture,” rhapsodized Bilal Paracha, a Muslim, senior business economics major from Karachi, Pakistan.

He will stay in this country after he graduates next spring if he has a job. But it looks increasingly likely that he will return to his parents’ home to share a car in a country beset by turmoil and flooding and a culture ”that is not always accepting of some ideas, like birth control,” he said.

Not so here, he found.

”American students are really accepting to new cultures and new ideas,” he said. ”I want to take that home with me.”

In the meantime, Moledina is trying to show students that the Florida pastor and his congregation are poorly informed.

”They don’t really take the time to understand the diversity within the Islamic faith,” he said. ”There’s a lot of ignorance.”

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