News

First-year student pulls from roots, helps introduce religious diversity to PLU through lecture series

Posted by: Date: March 21, 2016 In: , , , ,
PLU Students visit Gurudwara Singh Sabah (Sikh Temple) and school in Renton as part of a J-Term class on the religions of Southeast Asia on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. (Photo/John Froschauer)

PLU Students visit Gurudwara Singh Sabah (Sikh Temple) and school in Renton as part of a J-Term class on the religions of Southeast Asia on Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016. (Photo/John Froschauer)

By Samantha Lund '16
PLU Marketing & Communications

TACOMA, WASH. (March 21, 2016)- With a Catholic mother and Buddhist father, first-year April Nguyen never had to worry about understanding religious diversity in her household — it was just how she was raised.

Religion studies and religious diversity weren’t on her radar until she got an internship with U.S. Rep. Adam Smith this summer. His focus on religious diversity and education inspired Nguyen to bring that essential part of her childhood to PLU this year.

“Part of the reality is that PLU is a very religiously diverse place,” Interim PLU Pastor John Rosenberg said. “My job is to acknowledge and do something constructive with that information.”

When Nguyen approached Rosenberg earlier this year with her idea, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. The two discussed and worked on what eventually became a six-week lecture series on religious diversity called “Let’s Talk About Religious Diversity.”

The lecture series, also hosted by Associate Students of PLU, brings in new speakers each week that specialize in different religions. It comes to a close Wednesday, March 23, with a panel on Christianity. The panel will include students from different Christian backgrounds, as well as one or two students with Jewish backgrounds, who will discuss their history and practices. The final event takes place in Xavier 201 at 7 p.m.

One lecture in the religious diversity series included the event “Getting to Know Your Jewish Neighbor” (below).

“I think it’s great that we have opportunities to discuss what makes our student body diverse,” said first-year Paris Franklin, one of the students speaking in Wednesday’s Christianity panel. “The prospect of sharing a bit about my culture and beliefs with a group that isn’t familiar is exciting.”

Every week the event’s crowd has grown, starting with an audience of seven and eventually attracting about 30 students.

“It’s getting bigger, which is amazing,” Nguyen said. “It’s really great to see people asking questions and their reactions to each speaker.”

"The prospect of sharing a bit about my culture and beliefs with a group that isn’t familiar is exciting."- First-year Paris Franklin

Nguyen and Rosenberg both agree that listening to the way students positively react to the lectures and digest them has been the best part of the new series. Nguyen recalls students asking an Islamic speaker about religious dress and rituals that they would otherwise be uncomfortable asking in passing.

Though, Nguyen pointed out, the lectures aren’t only supposed to be for students. Faculty and staff can take away just as much, if not more, from diversity training.

“Throughout this whole process, I realized how amazing students can be,” Rosenberg said. “(Nguyen) did an amazing job, learning as she went along.”

One of the highlights of the lecture series was welcoming Col. William “Bill” Green, who lectured about the Baptist faith and his life on Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Green is the pastor at JBLM and talked about how his job had to change over time to mesh with American culture. He has to try and accommodate soldiers’ different religious needs while on duty.

“Let’s Talk About Religious Diversity” series comes to a close Wednesday, March 23, in Xavier 201 at 7 p.m. with a panel on Christianity.