On February 23, Gannon recently had the privilege of hosting speaker Eboo Patel at the Hammermill. Eboo Patel is a current member of President Barack Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships, and founder and President of the nonprofit, Interfaith Youth Core. He comes from Illinois, where he spent time as an activist for a number of causes in Chicago, many of which revolved around faith. Given his background, it makes sense that Patel would speak about faith and philosophical diversity at Gannon, as he has before at other schools.

While full of complex concepts, the message of his speech was very clear: While we may think we understand diversity, there are so many facets that we fail to grasp. He talks about how we tell kids to simply celebrate diversity, but it is much harder than that.

Patel emphasized that so much of our identity is tied into our philosophical and religious beliefs and this creates opportunity for friction but also opportunity for cooperation– “building bridges,” as he refers to it. Diversity is just a fact of life, and of the world we live in, so we have to be able to embrace it and find ways to use it in a constructive fashion.

At the beginning of the speech Patel brought up three important questions in regards to faith in a world of diversity: “Who am I?” “Who are you?” and “Who are We?” Essentially what he meant is:

  1. How do we see our own faith in relationship with all of the others that exist?
  2. How do we see other faiths in comparison to our own and how do we fit all of them together?

These are questions that we face as students and as community members by simply existing in a global environment. They are inescapable questions in America, which is built on the efforts of people from many different backgrounds.

But these questions are especially important in a City like Erie and at a University like Gannon. With the number of refugees the City of Erie is home to and the number of international students that populate Gannon, there is certainly multinational diversity. Eboo Patel makes sure to make note of this fact and how much that local diversity has grown over the years.

All of us at Gannon like to pride ourselves on this diversity, but having differing groups of people all gathered in the same place is only the start. Building and maintaining bridges between these groups is an ongoing process where everyone on campus must be engaged. Diversity isn’t just numbers and proportions, it’s how all the people those numbers stand for interact and coexist.

If you did not get a chance to attend Eboo Patel’s very enlightening speech, you can watch it above. You can also find a number of his other speeches online about other topics related to diversity, like his TED talk. If you are interested in learning out more about his work on colleges campus across America  through the Interfaith Youth Core, you can find out more here.