Kanwardeep Singh Kaleka, a member and nephew of the deceased president of the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Sikh Gurdwara Temple discussed the meaning of community and how we handle differences at the “From Strangers to Solidarity” reflection dinner yesterday in the Alumni Memorial Union. The event was hosted by Office of Cultural Engagement, Marquette Student Government, Campus Ministry, the Office of International Education, Spirituality Education and Sikhism, and the Indian Student Association.
Kaleka sought to inform the Marquette community about the importance of finding commonalities among our differences, and respecting how those differences relate to the Oak Creek Temple shooting that occurred in August.
The free dinner, which was open to students and faculty. included vegetarian Indian fare like Naan (flour bread), Dal Makhani (lentils cooked in sauce), and Gulab Jamun (honey-flavored pastry) and was open to all students and faculty.
Erin LeMoine, the International Marketing & Communications Coordinator of the Office of International Education, said the office decided to partially sponsor the event to foster cross-cultural understanding, which is key in preventing tragedies like the shooting at the Sikh Temple.
“It is through authentic dialogue and awareness building that the community can learn to understand and appreciate its differences,” LeMoine said.
LeMoine added it is important that cultural events like the reflection dinner occur on campus because they help break down stereotypes between different ethnicities and faiths.
“Most often people are surprised by how many fundamental human values they share in common,” LeMoine said. “Our Jesuit mission calls us to be good neighbors and to fully engage with all community members. And Marquette is part of the Milwaukee community.”
During his speech, Kaleka stressed ideas of community and acceptance as key factors in educating individuals about acts of terror like the shooting a few months ago.
“The big concept here is that on that day a white supremacist killed six people mainly because he saw those individuals as different,” Kaleka said. “He didn’t know much of our faith. He hated everyone who wasn’t like him. That was an attack on everyone and on anyone who has ever felt different.”
Pictures of those six deceased members of the Temple served as a reminder to community members and students at the dinner that tragedy affects everyone.
“My mission is to unite,” Kaleka said. “It is our obligation to work with everyone in our community because those people are you. They are a part of all of us.”
Kaleka stressed that if the gunman who attacked Oak Creek Temple devoted even the smallest amount of time to understanding Sikhism, he would not have committed such atrocities.
Kaleka said Sikhism is based on 3 major principles where one is expected to work hard and honestly, always keep God in mind and share what you have with others.
Jasleen Bhasin, a junior in the College of Business Administration and one of the coordinators of the reflection dinner, said the tragedies at Oak Creek especially affected her sense of security as she is an international student.
“(The shooting) was very hard,” Bhasin said. “ We are still all recovering from it.”
Like Kaleka, Bhasin added that a sense of unity is more important now than ever.
“The tragedy shows us that we can’t do this alone,” Bhasin said. “We are one community.”
Bhasin said fundamental misunderstandings regarding a person’s faith, race or ethnicity are at the root of supremacist and racist attacks on others as she recounted after 9/11 atrocities occurred, the general public would often wrongfully assume her father to be Muslim since Sikh men wear head turbans.
Attendees were asked to move to different tables away from friends or those they came with to encourage diversity in learning something from a differing point of view.
“We are so immersed in our own micro-communities,” Kaleka said. “But community embodies stepping outside our comfort zone.”