Two educational forums on Islamic faith and culture, developed in response to harassment experienced last semester by a University of St. Thomas student who is Muslim, will be held on the university’s St. Paul campus in coming weeks.
Meanwhile, St. Thomas students, staff and faculty are developing a long-term response that would address not only cultural insensitivity, but a range of campus-climate issues.
The first Islamic educational forum will be held from noon to 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 27, in O’Shaughnessy Educational Center. A second, follow-up forum will be held from 11:45 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 13, in the Fireside Room of Koch Commons. More details about the forums will be announced next week. Both events are open to all.
The harassment, which has been strongly condemned by university officials from the president on down, has served as the catalyst to create a long-term, student-based response to hate crimes, harassment and insensitivity.
With support from the offices of the president and student affairs, a university group is organizing what is called a “peer educator” program. Under the proposal, which is still being developed, a group of student volunteers will receive eight to 10 weeks of training on a range of campus-climate issues that will include discrimination, harassment, race relations, diversity of faith, sexuality, alcohol and drug issues, violence and disabilities.
Once their training is complete, the volunteers will speak or present programs to student clubs, residence halls and orientation sessions.
The peer-educator model, used in different formats on other campuses across the country, would be a first for St. Thomas, and represents a significant new approach to how the university responds to harassment.
In recent years, for example, the campus has responded to hate crimes — such as graffiti in residence halls — through forums, posters and prayer vigils. While the response was powerful and effective, it had a relatively short shelf life. Many students who experienced the Brady Hall hate-crime turmoil in the fall of 1997, for example, have now graduated.
The peer-educator program, on the other hand, would have an on-going effect, and as new climate issues surface, training for the student volunteers could be tailored and fine-tuned.
Two members of the Multicultural Student Services staff, associate director Dr. Raj Sethuraju and assistant director Onar Primitivo, have previous experience working with peer-educator programs at campuses in Texas and Colorado.
“This is not a one-time response to problems,” Sethuraju explained. “It helps maintain a high level of awareness of campus issues. At the same time, it’s an interesting and fun experience for the student volunteers; they are doing something worthwhile, and the experience can look good on a resume, too.”
A planning meeting for the peer-educator program will be held from noon to 1:15 p.m. Monday, Feb. 12, in Room 152, Murray-Herrick Campus Center. The meeting is open to all students, staff and faculty who would like to be involved in planning the program.
Other meetings will be held in the future for students who would like to be trained as peer educators.
Sethuraju said the planning group hopes that training for peer educators will begin in early March, and that the volunteers can begin presentations later in the semester.
For more information about the program, call Sethuraju at (651) 962-6458 or send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.