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Religious Symposium strives for understanding

Panel discussion aids in uniting religions

Published: Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 23:07

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Jorge Montalvo — THE BATTALION

Texas A&M's SGA Diversity Commission will host "Religion and Spirituality Symposium" at Mays Business School on Wednesday night.

The event is a collaboration of knowledgeable leaders of five different faiths meeting at a round table discussion panel to answer questions concerning the interplay between different religions and how each deals with topical world issues.

Daniel Gutierrez, a junior industrial distribution major and vice president of the Diversity Commission, conceived the idea last summer while musing on the perceived close-mindedness of Aggies, and how he could personally work to change that image.

"We, as students, exist together with all sorts of different beliefs and ideals, yet some still don't fully understand or are hesitant to learn," said Gutierrez. "It happens all the time here, but we want to change that."

Along with the other members of the Diversity Commission, Gutierrez began contacting leaders throughout the community. The Commission brought together representatives from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Atheism and Hinduism for the Symposium.

The two-hour panel will answer questions attendees submit before the start that will be read by Craig Rotter, moderator and the coordinator of residence life for Living Learning Communities.

By showcasing each religious leader at a round table discussion on equal footing, the Diversity Commission wants to keep discussion civilized and scholarly.

"This is not a competition, there isn't a winner," said Ryan Stepp, junior finance major and Director of Finance for the Diversity Commission. "We want to inform the student body and spread understanding about these different faiths."

The main focus of the evening, as decided by the commission members, is to highlight what links the five different belief systems together. They said people tend to focus on what sets them apart from other people instead of celebrating what they share.    

"I believe all world religious issues can be solved through understanding each other and the commonalities we share," said Kamiar Kordi, sophomore international studies major and Chief of Commission for the group. "And that needs to start at the collegiate level."

The members admit the symposium did not come together without problems. From the beginning, they struggled to find people they felt qualified enough to represent the faiths at such a large event.

"How can we, as Aggies, make a notable difference in this world? That question drove me every day in planning this," said Gutierrez. "Eventually, we want to nationalize the event and bring it to other universities."

Moving beyond Texas seems like a dream for the group, but they can't imagine it taking root anywhere but Texas A&M. The core values of the school and the quality of the students seemed an ideal atmosphere to showcase a symposium of this scope.

According to the group, Aggies place faith, in whatever they choose to believe, high on their priority list. The Symposium dares to illuminate many of the less prevalent faiths on campus and the Aggies who identify with them.

"Certain groups may believe they don't fit into the generally accepted idea of what an Aggie is," said Leonardo Zingg, freshman general studies major and the Commission's Officer of Commerce. "Their stories are just as essential and valid."

With more that 200 people attending, The Diversity Commission plans to make this event an annual occurrence. In the past, carry over has been an issue for the group, many events never making it past the first year. The Religion and Spirituality Symposium offers the group a variable platform to build on year after year with new topics or speakers for each event.

"With our fellow Aggies poised to become leaders all around the world, we need to protect those core values that exemplify who we are," said Gutierrez. "That way, we can make sure we lead in the best way possible. It all starts with understanding."

 

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