Religious groups combat stereotypes, reach students

Daily Sundial

Over a dozen religious organizations lined Magnolia Walk April 20 and 21 to represent their respective beliefs to students and each other at the “Meet Your Local Place of Worship Day.”

Each organization set up a display, spoke with those in attendance and handed out information. Among the religions represented were Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Baha’i, Buddhism and Catholicism.

Event coordinator Darlene Warren-Shapiro said she felt it is important for people to become educated, not only about their own religions, but about other people’s religions as well, so they can gain a better appreciation of diversity.

“By the end of (Wednesday), people were talking to each other and making friends,” said Warren-Shapiro, who is also the director of the United Campus Ministry and chair of the CSUN Interfaith Council. “I’m hoping the tolerance will rub off (on the visitors).”

Warren-Shapiro said even though the Interfaith Council has been on campus for more than 35 years, most students do not even know it exists. She said the Interfaith Council has not done much advertising, but that she has recently gotten a bit more aggressive in trying to increase membership, with the event focused on spreading campus awareness of the organization.

Some representatives of the various religious groups said people often misunderstand or stereotype their religion, and used the two-day event to clear up confusion, even if only to a few people.

“When people think of Mormons, they automatically think of men with more than one wife, that we don’t play songs and that we don’t dance,” said Winn Raleigh, director and teacher at the Northridge Institution of Religion.

Other faiths also used the opportunity to combat stereotypes.

“The most common misconception about us is that our women are oppressed and that we’re all terrorists,” said Homiara Shifa, senior journalism major, who was a representative of the Islam religion at the event.

Representatives also discussed the issue that students are not necessarily thought of as religious people.

“You’ve got to teach them and give them a foundation to fall on,” Raleigh said. “And if you don’t give them anything, sometimes they gravitate to the loudest noise possible, and that’s not always good.”

Others expressed similar views.

“(Students are) involved in (other things),” said Key Darabi of the Baha’i Faith. “They’re looking for something new and applicable to their social life, something they can relate to.”

Many visitors did not know the event was taking place until they were right in the middle of it, but said they felt it was a good way to spread awareness.

“I think it’s important to get things like this out there because a lot of people tend to flounder in college,” said Elizabeth Shapiro, senior liberal studies major. “(When) I came to college, I didn’t know anybody and I fell into a depression, but I was strong in my faith. If I had something like this (event) to keep me guided, I wouldn’t have (been as depressed). It’s a wholeness, and if you don’t have that, you’re not really complete.”