Kaitlyn Hughes | Staff Writer
With an international student population of at least 500 students from 85 different countries, Duquesne held the Interreligious and Intercultural Thanksgiving in the Union ballroom on Monday night.
The event was co-hosted by the Consortium for Interreligious Dialogue, the Spiritan Campus Ministry and the Center for Global Engagement.
This dinner welcomed students to learn and share about different Thanksgiving traditions and cultures from around the world. Throughout the night, students engaged in conversation and listened to a multitude of presentations about interreligious communication.
The program was originally started in 2018 by the late Marinus Iwuchukwu, who was killed in his home this past January.
Co-leader of the Consortium for Interreligious Dialogue, Thérèse Bonin, said the goal of this group is to continue Iwuchukwu’s mission of encouraging students to value diversity in a world where conflict is constantly arising. They plan to release 11 chapters he wrote for his manuscript on Christian-Muslim dialogue in the near future.
Bonin expressed how this event was meant to increase understanding and appreciation for new ideas through the perspective of our own faith and culture.
“These dinners are meant to promote mutual understanding among those of different religions and cultures, in the hope that healthy, peaceful and mutually enriching interactions will result,” Bonin said.
Information was presented about Catholic traditions, Hispanic Thanksgiving culture, celebrations in a Christian-Nigerian family, Muslim holidays and foods special to the Jewish community.
During the speeches, students indulged in Mediterranean chicken, beef curry, mashed potatoes, white rice, vegan vegetable curry and stir fry. The dinner was made to accommodate a variety of dietary restrictions.
The event welcomed anyone at Duquesne, but it was seen to be particularly beneficial for students who are not originally from the United States. During the meal, students reflected on the importance of learning about others and sharing where they came from.
“I am sure that especially for international students, they can feel very isolated when they first arrive here,” Bonin said. “Anything we can do to make them feel welcome and as if they are a community here, we are glad to do.”
International student Duaa Alzahrani is pursuing her Ph.D. in behavioral analysis. Alzahrani is not originally from the United States, but she has attended other American schools prior to coming to Duquesne. Duquesne has been the most progressive school in trying to include people of all cultures and religions she said.
“I used to just do Thanksgiving on my own, but this event is like sharing Thanksgiving with other people,” said Alzahrani.
A student from Brazil, Deva Gomes, expressed how she and other international students agreed that these events are viewed as necessary in developing relationships.
“You really feel alone when you come here, so it is important to have a connection with people who are in the same boat as you,” Gomes said. “It is important to have these events, so we can all connect with each other.”
This event not only provided a sense of community, but gave students the ability to share their own interpretations of Thanksgiving. Presenter and member of SACNAS, Alexa Gonzalez, was excited to provide insight on her Hispanisc heritage.
“It is really fun to have the opportunity to talk about how we have adapted to American culture,” said Gonzalez.
Even though Thanksgiving is seen as an American holiday, many countries have modified the holiday to meet the standards of their own traditions. Coming from Puerto Rico, Gonzalez said that Hispanic people add their own personalities to spice up traditional Thanksgiving celebrations.
Through her time of being a member of SACNAS, Gonzalez has recognized why it is crucial to be educated about different cultures.
“You can’t fully connect with someone unless you understand where they come from,” Gonzalez said. “We have presentations from people all over, and I think that is really important.”
Co-leader of the Consortium for Interreligious Dialogue, James Swindal, said, apart from gaining initial exposure with other cultures, there is great importance in embodying the education of different cultures into our everyday lives, as well as owning our own culture.
“Own your own culture and your own faith,” said Swindal. “You have to own your own identity before you can really gift other people with sharing your identity.”
Student Lydia Dennis elaborated on Swindal’s idea and spoke on how she appreciates diversity in her day-to-day life and welcomes Duquesne’s inclusion for all ethnicities.
“I think that one thing that Duquesne is great at is that we do have Iftars and we do have the menorah outside,” said Dennis, “Even though it’s a Catholic school, they still celebrate those different religions.”