Monday, October 13, 2008

St. Paul, Minnesota

Reflection written by Jon Bruns, Reservations and Information Desk Manager, Campus Center & Conferences, Macalester College.

We had an interesting dialogue that provoked both thoughts by our group and additional questions as well. One of the interesting facets of our dialogue and discussion included talking about what we would make a documentary about, if we were going to make a documentary like Valerie’s film. There were a wide variety of responses, and it was great to hear about some of the social justice work that is being done by a variety of people. There were individuals working with the homeless, on Indian Reservations, and in African countries. It’s always inspiring to hear about this type of work, and I think that it is very beneficial to learn about these experiences first hand. That was definitely one of the components that I took away from the film, and others said that they did as well. The educational component of learning about a different religion and culture was very mind-opening.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

OSU Professor Brings DWF to Campus to Start Dialogue

This article was published in onCampus, The Ohio State University Faculty Staff Newspaper, Vol. 38, Nov. 5 (Oct. 9, 2008), and features Dr. Tarunjit Singh Butalia, our host for the OSU screening of Divided We Fall in May 2008.

For Tarunjit Butalia, the sound of silence is deafening. That’s why the soft drumbeat of BART — the University’s Bias Assessment and Response Team — is music to his ears.

Butalia, a research scientist in the College of Engineering, was doing what many Ohio State faculty and staff were doing last fall: Taking advantage of a free admission evening at COSI in downtown Columbus. He, his wife and three young children were enjoying the interactive exhibits when he was singled out for hurtful treatment by another COSI visitor.

“Osama bin Laden!” came a loud voice behind Butalia. “Osama!”

People turned to look. They saw a middle-aged, bearded man wearing a turban and the young man who had taunted him.

No one said a word. A few shook their heads in disbelief or embarrassment and went back to their tour. The young man moved on with his friends, and Butalia — wearing the turban of his Sikh faith — reported the incident to museum security. “Unfortunately,” said Butalia, “the security person did not take his name or get an ID number.” To add to the insult, Butalia said the same young man who had hurled the taunts came back later and took a picture of him with his cell phone.

If anyone noticed, no one spoke up. To Butalia’s way of thinking, the silence was just as hurtful, if not more so, than the young man’s name-calling.

“I think many folks heard it,” he said. “But they think, ‘If it’s not happening to me, why do I need to worry about it?’ I want people to understand that if one of us is threatened, all of us are threatened.”

At a university that boasts diversity of race, culture, religion and lifestyle, Butalia decided, surely there must be a mechanism for promoting understanding. He reasoned that although the incident did not occur on campus, it did occur at a campus-sponsored event.

He soon found that BART’s team of representatives was indeed interested in working with him to open a community discussion about cultural and religious freedom and tolerance.

BART’s mission is threefold: To monitor bias-related incidents within the Ohio State community; to provide assistance to victims and witnesses; and to serve as a general resource for those who wish to examine issues of bias and discrimination both on and off campus.

Rebecca Nelson, a co-convener of BART’s response team as assistant vice president for student life and director of the Multicultural Center, said, “Most of the time, we are reacting to individual situations.” Butalia’s endeavor, on the other hand, “is asking us to consider a very large climate issue. It is ‘squishy,’ hard to get your arms around. But a university like Ohio State is a place to start that discussion.”

To increase awareness, the university invited community members to a spring 2008 reception and screening of the acclaimed documentary film, Divided We Fall, which focused on the Sikh community in the aftermath of 9/11.

Afterward, attendees participated in a purposeful dialogue about racism, religion and healing. As a result of this event, Nelson said, “There is now this conversation…how do we talk about faith, difference and commonality?”

The potential for such teaching moments abound on campus, Butalia said. While BART is not disciplinary in nature, “its softer approach means we are able to transform the atmosphere. It is a building up, an effort to change. The beauty of the BART process is that it brings closure to individuals who have been subjected to hurtful language.”

But what about the silence of the witnesses? “Over time,” Butalia said, “Each of us could learn to stand up for one another.”

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Los Angeles, California

Report on this screening taken from a SABA-SC press release.

On Sept. 23, 2008, the South Asian Bar Association of Southern California (SABA-SC) hosted a screening of Divided We Fall in Los Angeles. Following the screening, held at Loyola Law School, a panel featuring Ahilan T. Arulanantham, Director of Immigrant Rights and National Security for the ACLU of Southern California; David Glazier, a Loyola Law School professor; Sharat Raju, the film's director and producer; and noted attorney and community organizer Nitasha Sawhney (one of the interviewees featured in DWF) led a discussion to a group of 70 attorneys and law students on civil rights issues in the wake of Sept. 11 and prevention of hate crimes against South Asians. (Below: Nitasha Sawhney speaks in the panel after the screening.)

“One of the goals of SABA-SC is to raise awareness of legal issues pertaining to the South Asian community," said Pankit Doshi, Co-President of SABA-SC. "By screening Divided We Fall, we hope to have educated the community on the issue of hate crimes and hate violence, in particular after 9/11, and how it affects our community to this day.”

Among issues raised at the SABA-SC screening, the panelists noted that, unlike other communities, the South Asian community often does not report incidents of violence or discrimination. Both Sawhney and Arulanantham stressed the importance of reporting hate crimes to authorities and community organizations that can address the issue. The audience was also encouraged to pursue opportunities to educate and assist the community to deal with discrimination and other civil rights issues.

The South Asian Bar Association of Southern California ("SABA-SC") is the oldest and largest South Asian bar association in the country. SABA-SC is dedicated to the advancement and development of South Asian attorneys and strives to promote the professional development of lawyers and law students, educate the community about relevant legal issues, and expand and enhance business and professional opportunities for South Asians.

(Above: The panel and the board of SABA-SC after the screening.)

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fargo, North Dakota

Reflection written by Kara E. Gravley-Stack, Equity & Diversity Center, North Dakota State University.

On Sept. 22, 2008 a small but diverse group of students, faculty, staff and community members gathered in the Memorial Union at North Dakota State University to screen the film Divided We Fall: Americans in the Aftermath.

The discussion that followed provided students the opportunity to express their surprise and outrage at the accounts provided throughout the documentary. Many of the students were quite young when the attacks on 9/11 happened, so their knowledge of the events of that day, and the days immediately following, were primarily focused on the stories produced by mainstream media. They knew of the hijacked airplanes, the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the Pennsylvania field – and they knew of the official response from the U.S. government. However, most of them were completely unaware of the prejudice and hate crimes perpetrated against people perceived to be “Muslim terrorists.”

One Muslim student shared his own experiences as a victim of hate crimes after 9/11. Another student shared her story as a Christian-born woman who recently converted to Islam and has chosen to wear a hijab. These stories, and others, probably would not have been shared in any other venue than upon watching this video. The majority of people in attendance were very moved by both the movie and the reflection session. This provided an excellent opportunity to expand our knowledge of different cultures and world religions – more events like this need to be offered!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Redlands, California

Reflection written by Leela MadhavaRau, Special Advisor to the President and Associate Dean of Campus Diversity and Inclusion, University of Redlands.

I first saw Divided We Fall at a national conference. At that time, I felt it was a film that would have an impact on the students on our campus. When I read that there was a national campaign to show the film across the country, I wanted to make sure that people in Redlands had a chance to participate.

One of the student organizations on campus, Fidelity, Isonomy and Erudition (FIE), decided to stage a re-enactment of the Balbir Singh Sodhi’s murder scene. They did this out in our central plaza, an area where the majority of the University’s population will pass during any given day. Alongside the scene, they posted information about the film screening as well as information about the retribution murders and blank sheets of paper for responses. This display was a very effective way of drawing the campus’ attention to the film screening as well as to hate crimes.

We showed the film on Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008. We thought that we might have an audience of about 75 but, in the end, we had approximately 140 participants. These included students, faculty, staff and members of the local community.

I believe that one of the comments from our student community represents the reaction of those who saw the film:

“I heard a whisper of a dialogue about race and discrimination floating around campus in the week preceding the showing of your film. Immediately after the showing, I heard that whisper grew into full-fledged conversation about things students wouldn’t really talk about normally, and it was amazing. I feel like your documentary brought so much awareness to Redlands. Sometimes a realization of the most awful things can produce the most motivation to make a difference. I also really appreciated your personal and realistic touch to the film. It made it that much more impactful. Thank you.”

The day after the screening, I ran into another administrator who saw some of the students returning from the screening. He commented that they told him that they had just viewed a film that had had an incredibly profound impact on them. Faculty in various classes commented that their students talked about the new perspectives gained from watching the film as well as insight into themselves, particularly around issues of stereotyping.

I encourage campuses across the nation to use this film to begin dialogue and conversation.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Storrs, Connecticut

Reflection written by Maninder Kaur, president, Sikh Student Association, University of Connecticut.

Our expected attendance was about 200 people and we ended up filling the auditorium to 250+ people! We were delighted with the number and diversity of the attendees.

For our panel discussion after the film, we had invited Angela Rola, the Director of the Asian American Cultural Center and the Chairperson for the Asian Pacific American Coalition of Connecticut, Dr. Saud Anwar, also the Co-chair for the Asian Pacific American Coalition of Connecticut and a great leader and activist within the Pakistani community and William Howe, Secretary of the Asian Pacific American Coalition of Connecticut as well as an Education Consultant for the Connecticut State Dept of Education. With these three great leaders, we addressed many questions that the audience had. 

With about 35 people in the discussion, we began the discussion with Dr. Anwar's slideshow on the basics of hate crimes, how to report it and why. Some topics that were brought up included what things can we do to make a difference even if we are not human rights majors, issues around the violence and bias attacks of Timothy McVeigh, the backlash of the Virginia Tech shootings, the Japanese American Internment. There was also a great topic that was brought up which was if there has been any change in the educational system or curriculum after September 11th. 

Overall, our screening of Divided We Fall was a great success! We received great feedback from the attendees and had an overwhelming response afterwards when everyone read our article (front page of 2nd section) in our school newspaper the following day.

San Diego, California

Reflection written by Emily M. N. Kugler, Ph.D.

The audience ranged from families to San Diego State University students to other members of the San Diego community. Most of the discussion centered on memories of the days following 9/11. For one young college student, the film surprised her: she remembered the attacks, but did not realize how quickly people picked out targets. Her feelings at the time were of fear and confusion, of not knowing and not immediately thinking of who to blame. That others immediately started targeting anyone they thought looked Muslim shocked her.

Others were aware of how quickly the racist backlash had begun. A Sikh-American college student recalled that he had been in high school at the time. Before 9/11, the students in one of his classes had shared their backgrounds, and he had told them about being born in India and his Sikh faith. He felt he had educated them, yet when the towers fell, he was targeted by anti-Muslim slurs.

A Sikh teen shared how a group of boys had harassed him as he started high school, but the vice principal had shown them this film and the situation became better. He wondered, however, what more he could do: his school has over 3,000 people, and the thought of educating all of them seems like an overwhelming task.

Another viewer remembered being in graduate school at the time; sitting in his international relations class (a subject that seemed less abstract that the day before). His best friend, who was Indian, turned to him, saying how different it would be, that now he wouldn’t be able to go out alone. Since then, this viewer had married a non-white woman, and this combined with the experience of his friend's after 9/11 changed how he viewed his life: he realized that like his friend and many of the other people who had shared their stories, his children might face prejudices that he never had to experience.

A Japanese-American woman also discussed her worries about her children: avoiding racial discrimination had been one of the reasons she had moved her family from the East Coast to a more tolerant area. She also shared her feelings that we are, in many ways, living in a reenactment of the Internment and discussed her efforts to get her community to stand up for the new groups being targeted.

Not every story was one of having experienced or fearing the continuation of racial hatred. The mother of the young man whose antagonizers had reformed after seeing this film shared a story of hope to counter everyone’s less-pleasant memories. After 9/11, she feared for her children’s safety, but instead of hatred, she saw people come together: her neighbors made a point to come to her and tell her that they would help watch over her children and her home.

Some viewers left as soon as the film ended; not all wanted to share a story; but everyone listened. That is what this film does. You listen to the stories of those in the film and it makes you more open to the story of the stranger sitting next to you.