Former Student Group Leader, Walking the Walk Youth Initiative
"Building Bridges, not Barriers, on a College Campus"
"I am an alumna of the University of Pennsylvania, and I participated in the Walking the Walk program 2011 as a junior in high school and again as a senior and a student group leader in 2012. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the program, the Walking the Walk youth initiative is an interfaith dialogue and service group that meets biweekly with teenagers from all different backgrounds. It fosters constructive communication and respect for those of other faith traditions. It is an incredible program.
"I believe that skills I learned during my time in the Walking the Walk program have helped me and bettered those around me since I’ve been at Penn. I’d like to share a story with you to explain how.
"During my sophomore year, a group on campus called the Students for Justice in Palestine put on a kind of memorial or protest on college green, in the middle of campus. They placed hundreds of small black flags into the ground with small descriptions of whom each flag is commemorating. Posted on a tree adjacent to the grid of flags, they put up some signs explaining their protest with some pretty aggressive language.
"I was walking by with some other Jewish friends and was surprised at their reactions. Most were offended, and some just wanted to pretend it wasn’t there. A rather large group had formed around the flags. It was an idle group, people were mostly just staring – unequipped with the tools they needed to effectively communicate what they were feeling.
"My reaction could not have been more opposite. I wanted to know more. I wanted to talk to someone in the group and understand where they were coming from. Most importantly, I ended up physically walking through the rows of flags and looking at the descriptions, paying my respects. Death is awful for both sides, and I wanted to commemorate those who unfortunately lost their lives in the conflict.
"My curiosity, sympathy and eagerness to engage in constructive discussion were all tools that I developed during my time as a participant in the Walking the Walk program. I felt confident not only approaching the protest on the green, but also talking about it with the other onlookers.
"I’m so grateful for the Walking the Walk program, and the Interfaith Center as a whole, for helping me become actively open minded. What I mean by that is that not only am I now open minded to be curious, and respect the views of others, but walking the walk has taught me to go a step further. I actively seek out opportunities to learn and engage with those who are different than me.
"Moreover, by participating as a student group leader, I was fortunate enough to also develop skills to help me hopefully encourage others to engage in the same kind of communication that I find so fulfilling."