LaGuardia Opens Dialogue to Bring Religions Together

February 15, 2007

Author: Rashmi Vaish

Source: Times Ledger

Perhaps one of the hardest things to do in today's cultural milieu is to have a dialogue on religion. Most consider it a minefield and stay away from the topic. But what if you got together with a group of people from diverse religious backgrounds and did just that?

This was one of the questions posed at LaGuardia Community College a couple of years ago when it became known that the Long Island City school had received a $100,000 Ford Foundation grant for an initiative called Difficult Dialogues. The project is aimed at promoting academic freedom and religious, cultural and political pluralism on college and university campuses in the United States.

"We were very honored to be selected by the foundation for the project," LaGuardia President Gail Mellow said. "Six hundred institutions had applied and we were one of 25 selected by the foundation to receive the grant." The other borough institution to receive the grant was Queens College, whose project is titled "The Middle East and America: Clash of Civilizations or Meeting of the Minds."

For LaGuardia's undertaking, called "Let Everyone Remain Free," the college decided to focus on the religious diversity that students and faculty experience on campus and in the larger community of Queens the college occupies, said Robert Kahn, director of the college's grants development office.

The canvas, after all, was perfect: Located in the most diverse county in the nation, the student body of the college represents 150 countries and speaks more than 100 native languages, with 42 percent of the students listed as Hispanic, 20 percent Asian, 20 percent black and 17 percent white, according to statistics from LaGuardia.