By Ara Jabagchourian
Thanks to Dr. Vida Samiian, Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities at CSU, Fresno, our community received a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to offer several symposia on pluralism and identity. The goal of the project is to give an initial push in first trying to grasp the real problems that our fragmenting society is facing and then to hopeful gain some concrete solutions in trying to resolve the many differences we as Americans face.
One of the symposiums was held at CSU, Fresno on March 26. The program consisted of two parts. The first was a panel discussion which consisted of several distinguished members of our community representing many different groups. They were each asked to comment on their particular area of study and then were asked to answer a few questions given to them first by the moderator and then by several people from the audience. Each member of the panel gave thought provoking comments which set the stage for the second half of the program.
The second half of the program, which consisted of several roundtable discussions, was superbly coordinated. There were about twenty-five tables with seating for ten people each. On the center of each table was a question that addressed some topic or area of conflict having to do with diversity and identity. With a moderator on each table, participants discussed what they thought about the specific issue on their table and the table as a whole tried to work out an initial solution. The table I was on asked the question “How equal are Americans?”. Under the moderation of Matthew Jendian, sociology professor at CSU, Fresno, our table came to the consensus that equality is an idea that exists in the constitution, but not in reality. The table believed the source of the inequality of all factors stems from the drastic economic inequality that is on a rapid polarization trend in America.
Another symposium that occurred on April 16. Fresno City College had a similar format, with the exception of the panelists being students. The topic of this particular symposium had to do with the search for common values amongst our diversity. There was a smorgasbord of diversity on this panel, representing everything from ethnicity, gender, class, language, and religious belief. Many of the presentations spoke of experiences that the students encountered in their lives, and then trying to explain it within the parameters of our society. I was asked to represent the Armenian students in this symposium. I have to admit, it was an eye opening experience to try and understand the complexity of other’s perspectives.
The idea of these symposia is an excellent start in trying to resolve the problems that arise in our community from the broad spectrum of diversity that exists in it. Merely discussing these problems is not enough though. Action is required by all participants in the community to not only change our habitual thoughts and practices, but to also solve some of the problems. Decisions need to be made about the real problems many face in our community. This process should not end as soon as the symposiums are completed. The changes in our community to correct these problems will and should be an on going process.