YSU Students United Panelist Break Through Societal Barriers

By Amanda Joerdt

Youngstown State University Students United is not only a university effort, but an effort to bring the student body together through student panels to discuss that even though people are different, they are also alike and bring diversity throughout campus.

The new student organization allows students, professors and community members to have uncomfortable conversations about topics such as religion, race and gender and break the societal barriers that come along with those topics.

Noor Khalayleh, a junior psychology major, has been working closely with fellow YSU students, Sarah Elisabeth Odidika and Marta Hergenrother, to get YSU Students United up and running.

Khalayeh said her encouragement for the panels came from YSU President Jim Tressel.

“[Tressel] wanted us to come up with an event where we could talk to each other in a safe area and discuss our differences and understand that while we are different, we are more alike because of our differences,” she said.

Khalayeh said YSU Students United consists of seven student panelists discussing predetermined, audience and social media based questions.

“It’s just to understand YSU students and how they come together in unity. Future events will involve discussions on topics such as race, gender and socioeconomic background,” she said.

Khalayeh said she hopes the YSU Student United panels will help students break barriers within their everyday lives.

“Some people stick in their own group and the people that they know, but with YSU Students United, they are inspired to step out of that group and learn different backgrounds,” she said. “Our campus is diverse and we hope to express that through these events.”

Student Panelists Focus on Religion

The first YSU Students United panel discussion was held on March 28 from 4:00-5:30 p.m. in the Chestnut Room in Kilcawley Center.

The panel consisted of seven student panelist with the first hot topic focusing on religion. The following students were chosen to represent their religion based on their personal experiences:

  • Rana Abu-Hashim, Islam
  • Caroline Smith, Agnosticism
  • Hunter Thomas, Judaism
  • Guraarashjot Multani, Sikhism
  • Sreya Brahmandam, Hinduism
  • Sunny (Hien) Do, Buddhism
  • Jasmine Smyles, Christianity

The student panelist shared their stories and personal beliefs with the audience and discussed the similarities and differences within the religions.

Hunter Thomas, a senior early childhood education major, represented Judaism and is in the process of converting to the religion.

Thomas said he was looking forward to educating the audience on his experience with Judaism.

“Judaism is very social justice-oriented, and that speaks to me a lot because I like to think that I try my best with making the world a better place,” he said. “I love the idea that the whole point of our faith is to make the world better.”

In Thomas’ opinion, talking about an uncomfortable topic can help our campus become more diverse.

“The first step for all of us to be able to understand each other more and respect each other more is to hear different points of view,” he said. “A lot of times we stick in our friend or religious groups or societal groups so we don’t get to meet other people who are unlike us.”

Thomas said being a student panelist educated him on new religions and belief systems within our society and university.

“I was learning new things as a panelist, so I think it’s really awesome that people showed up and were willing to listen to our stories and to get to know our faith system and the way we are living our lives,” he said.

One point of discussion among the panelists and audience was the generational differences in society today versus their parents perspectives on the religion.

Sreya Brahmandam, a senior biology major, represented Hinduism in the panel and shared with the audience her experience in the generational gap within her family.

Brahmandam said her parents passed down her religious beliefs and hopes to do the same for her family.

“I was fortunate enough where both my parents are very religious. They taught me that with every holiday. They’ll go into the temple, and I’ll ask my parents, ‘Why we are doing this,’ and that’s how we learn,” she said. “I can teach my kids one day and it’s important to teach it from the beginning to end.”

Bringing Unity to the University

While every religion has their differences, they all have a strong united front and bring unity within the diverse religions.

According to Khalayeh, at the end of every panel, the student panelists will talk about how their differences make them unite.

“We’ll start out the event pointing out those differences because we don’t want to disregard those, and our differences is what make us unique,” she said. “However, we like to end out every event with the theme of unity and to understand that we are more alike than different.”

Khalayeh said the goal of each panel is to bring students together with breaking through the societal barriers around the conversation.

“What we want students to understand is that we should respect each other, love each other and spread positivity through these type of conversations that make us uncomfortable so the abnormal will start to seem normal,” she said.

Brahmandam said bringing unity to campus is important for students to learn more about one another and come together from their differences.

“I think all the religions here are a basic foundation that peace, love and strength is the foundation that we’re all built on,” she said. “It’s really sad to see that bad people in the world are targeting different religions. Just because they are different doesn’t mean we need to hate on them.”

Thomas said the first step to overcoming judgement within different religions is to understand other perspectives and be united with all religious outlooks.

“To me, a lot of where that speaks is we’re united against hate, and as people of faith or people who chose not to believe in any certain God,” he said. “The idea of standing up for people who are only like us needs to go away and we need to be understanding of other people. That is how I think we can stay united together.”