‘Coexist Week’: an exploration of religion

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By Sandee Sandhu

Union students, with the help of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life,  held a “Coexist Week” during the first week of October.

Union stands as the first non-denominational school in the nation, displaying the Nott Memorial, an architectural symbol of religious diversity: the dome represents the Islamic faith, the stained glass Catholicism, and the Hebrew etched on the stone-masonry Judaism.

Events ranged on a daily basis from many religious organizations on-campus.

Multi-Faith Forum and Better Together ran the “Fast-a-Thon,” the first campus-wide effort to fast from Monday, October 1 at sunset to Tuesday, October 2 at sunset. As part of the event, discussions were held about how different religions view fasting, as well as how Schenectady is affected by hunger.

The Fast-a-Thon started with participants tie-dying “Coexist” shirts at Beuth on Monday, and many participants sporting “Ask me why I’m fasting” buttons on Tuesday.

On Tuesday night, the break-fast event at Hale House had over 60 people, though many more students participated in the actual Fast-a-Thon. Each table supported a bowl of dates, challah bread, and olives— all culturally significant items that people of different religions break fasts with.

During dinner, Better Together held a presentation in which students from different religious affiliations (Islam, Sikhism, Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, Christianity, Agnostic) spoke about how fasting related to them. Campus Kitchens came in and discussed the poverty surrounding Union, and encouraged all students to get more involved with the Empty Bowls Project, an event to raise money for those affected by hunger in the community.

Through the Fast-a-Thon, many came away with memorable experiences. Tenzin Youdon ‘15, who spoke on the behalf of Buddhism, stated, ‘This was my first fast and everything was really new to me.’ Fatima Hosain ‘15, one of the organizers of the Fast-a-Thon, commented, “I thought it was a great success and we had a really great turnout as we had students from different religious and nonreligious backgrounds come speak. It was great hearing about what the day of fasting meant to them.”

Wednesday marked a discussion in Sorum about religious labyrinths which are symbolic of religious pilgrimages or journeys. On Thursday, the entire campus was invited to reflect on life and walk a labyrinth set up in the Nott. Students came in, took off their shoes and had the chance to unwind by walking along the path.

Nuzhat Chowdury ‘16, who has moved by the labyrinth, shared her experience: “Honestly, I kind of found it scary not knowing where the path was taking me, but I guess that’s what it’s like to find God. It’s scary because you’re thrown into unknown territory.”

To end the week, students wore their Coexist shirts made during Monday’s event, and everyone had the chance to attend Friday’s event, ‘Breaking Boundaries, Baking Bread.’ Children from America Reads, where groups of Union students read and mentor children from local schools, also participated in the bread event.

This event brought students representing different organizations and clubs such as the Hindu religious group on campus, Aum, Muslim Student Association, Campus Kitchens, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and the Kenney Center to work on baking bread and discuss the varying cultural significance of bread.­­

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