Julia Camara on the 2017 Festival’s Social Awareness Table Conversations
Several students from IU’s School for Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) attended the Indy Festival of Faiths and moderated sessions of the Table Conversation. Julie Camara shares her reflections.
The event I attended was the Indy Festival of Faiths on October 14th at the Indianapolis War Memorial. The event was organized by the Center for Interfaith Cooperation and the Niagara Foundation. As the 6th annual Festival of Faiths, the event was put on with a theme of “Compassion through Action.” The purpose of the festival was to provide space for individuals to share and learn about each other’s traditions and to bring awareness of diverse religious congregations that exist in the community.
The audience who attended the event came to experience something new. I believe the event succeeded in fulfilling its mission to provide a space for sharing and learning. I saw many people mingling outside the memorial, drifting from one table to the next.
Fortunately, I was able to participate and even lead a round table discussion on world issues. Topics of discussion included Anti-Semitism, The Refugee Crisis, Authoritarianism in Turkey, Alternatives to Youth Incarceration, and Undocumented Immigrants. Before we began the discussion I sat at a table looking through the topics and realizing how difficult it is to find a solution to these pressing issues.
Anti-Semitism; Marla Topiol from the Jewish Community Relations Council began the discussion by sharing her story. “Why are Jews persecuted?” someone asked. Marla spoke of Jewish history and the story of displacement. Jews are the minority and as they began spreading out throughout the world people began stereotyping them. One such stereotype is that Jews are successful. The woman denied this fact and said oftentimes Jews are not successful but they form a community in which they can cohabit with others. I found it interesting that she brought up how Christianity differs from Judaism and it reminded me of where my religious affiliation stems. I had this same experience when I was speaking with a Muslim one time. She explained to me that we both come from Abrahamic faiths; Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
Refugee Crisis; Our conversation regarding the refugee crisis began with defining what a refugee is. This discussion taught me the importance of staying on topic. We had some discussion members who inserted their religious ideologies to recommend a solution, rather than proposing concrete solutions to the issue. I see this happen a lot in congressional and committee meetings. Policymakers, although passionate about social justice issues, often get sidetrack with their own political agendas and the problems fail to be addressed.
Undocumented Immigrants; I was fortunate enough to lead the discussion on undocumented immigrants. I began with the question of why we have undocumented immigrants in this country and what we can do about it. The group was smaller for this discussion and focused primarily on the immigration policies in America, and why they are an issue. Soon we began discussing the situation of Dreamers (Children of undocumented immigrants). We concluded that issues with undocumented immigrants expose gaps in immigration policy. One woman at our table identified how compassion plays a part in concealing the identity of illegal immigrants. Another woman proposed that undocumented immigrants should still have the opportunity to gain citizenship instead of instant deportation.
Alternatives to Youth Incarceration; I never thought of incarceration as a moneymaker. We discussed the issue of youth spending time in prison, wasting their lives for petty crimes. Furthermore, we discussed potential alternatives to incarceration such as behavioral training programs. One person steered the conversation to private prison agendas of making money and keeping a 100% capacity rate in the prisons. Another person touched on what we can do to help youth when they come out of prison. While many feel their criminal record will prohibit them from finding employment, we discussed communication in which inmates are notified of opportunities for when they are released. Incarceration is a new issue for me, however, I see a need to learn more about it if I want to help in governing society.
Overall this event taught me that with every societal issue there are a variety of perspectives at the discussion table. While we may be united in identifying the issue, we are often divided in proposing a solution. I feel this event could have been better if the discussion table was closer to the event space to get more participation. Furthermore, I believe this type of roundtable discussion would benefit in any policy process classroom.