Lori Way is a doctoral student at Union Institute and University in Cincinnati, Ohio, where she is majoring in humanities and culture with a specialization in Martin Luther King studies, and a Sikh civil rights advocate. She currently teaches art history and art appreciation in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area, and is also employed at an adult secondary credit program in Kendallville, Indiana.
Earlier this month, Lori organized the Sikh Education and Awareness Conference in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and was gracious to share the details of the event with American Turban.
I would like to thank American Turban for giving me the opportunity to tell you about our first Sikh Education and Awareness Conference, which was held at Ivy Tech Community College in Fort Wayne, Indiana on December 1st. Our targeted audience was the educational community of Fort Wayne as well as law enforcement and government officials from the Fort Wayne area. The event was to promote interfaith understanding and to combat the prejudice experienced by members of the Sikh religion. Few non-Sikhs in our area are aware of this religion, even though many within our gurdwaras were born and raised here. The number of Sikhs within the area is currently estimated at between 60-70 families, according to Sue Gill, representative of the Sikh Gurdwara of Fort Wayne.
Our speakers provided a broad overview of Sikhism as well as advanced topics in Sikh studies. Jagdeep Bola, one of our presenters at the conference, stated that, “It was a great opportunity to learn more about my own religion.” He was also grateful for the efforts made “for the goodwill of the entire Sikh community as well as the Indian community.”
This conference was inspired, in part, by my interaction with the people of the Sikh community in Fort Wayne, but also my involvement with the Sikh Coalition. I was one of twelve individuals from around the country selected in June of 2012 to take part in advocacy training related to Sikh civil rights in Washington DC. I have been asked by many why I, as a non-Sikh, have taken up the cause of promoting awareness of this religion. As an instructor at the collegiate and secondary school levels, I believe that it should be the goal of every educational institution to combat fear and hatred through cultural literacy. I could easily point to the events at Oak Creek to demonstrate the necessity of this work, but this is just one incident in an ongoing pattern of violence against Sikhs. It is also a reflection of a bias against many in this country whose articles of faith set them apart visually. Nothing can justify acts of violence against another person simply because they wear a turban, a hijab, a yarmulke or any other religious headdress. Forced assimilation and forsaking one’s cultural heritage should not be mandatory in order to be an American.
Along with my own presentation on Bhagat Singh Thind and his legacy of influence within current Sikh activism, the schedule of events also included:
Jagdeep Bola, Ivy Tech student – “Introduction to Sikhism”
Carl Jylland-Halverson, Professor of Psychology and Director of the Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program, University of Saint Francis – “South Asia Today”
Laurie Johnson, Chair and Associate Professor, Education Program, Ivy Tech – “Religious Tolerance in Education”
Tavleen Kaur, University of Michigan student – “Gurdwaras in North America: Form, Function, Design”
Punnu Jaitla, University of Michigan student – “Thoughts on the Creations of Enemies Within”
Randeep Hothi, University of Michigan student – “Does Cross-Cultural Dialogue Ever Happen?”
Arvind-Pal Mandair, Associate Professor and S.C.S.B Endowed Professor of Sikh Studies, University of Michigan – “Sikh Studies in North America”
Paula Ashe, Instructor, English Department, Ivy Tech – “Why It Matters to Us”
I would also like to thank Chancellor Jerrilee Mosier, Councilman Mitch Harper and gurdwara representative Sue Gill for their opening remarks at the conference, as well as Hardeep and Simran Darar who performed our shabad. I also owe a great debt of gratitude to those who contributed their time and resources to making the event a success, including Martha Martin, Rick Pulling, and Teresa Vazquez of Ivy Tech, the Sikh Gurdwara of Fort Wayne, and the Dashmesh Sikh Gurdwara.
A special note of thanks goes to my family for their assistance throughout the day. My husband, Shawn Way, was our master of ceremonies for the conference. My brother, Mark Rensberger, and my son, Bobby, served lunch for those in attendance. This event could not have taken place without their help, and I am hopeful that we will be able to continue this work in years to come.
Additional photos of the event are below.