Published on the blog for the Middle East Studies Center at Ohio State University.
We had the honor of co-hosting Valarie Kaur with the Multicultural Center, OSU Hillel, Mundo, OSU First Year Experience, the Office of Student Life, Asian American Association, Better Together, Indian Student Association, and the South Asian Student Association.
Twelve years ago, in the wake of September 11, 2001, Kaur set off across the country to discover the stories of those affected by this post-9/11 anger and hatred toward what Mahmoud has called “Muslim-looking others”. Since September 11th Sikhs, who often wear turbans as a part of religious observance, have been targets of related hate crimes. The months on the road with her cousin, recording and filming these stories, shone light on the effects of hate and ignorance in a time where unity in the United States was being preached from the rooftops. As this post is coming from a center focused on the Middle East, it is important to note that Sikhs originate in South Asia, not the Middle East. However, in teaching about the Middle East, and its diversity, we also teach about the groups outside of the Middle East to help make distinctions.
Kaur´s dedication and passion for social change have affected the course of her own life, and the lives of everyone she meets. She is a powerful activist for multifaith movements, promoting social change through legal avenues, and advocate for the Sikh community. One legal victory she highlighted is that the Justice Department now includes Sikh’s as a demographic group, allowing tracking of crimes against members of the community.
On November 14, 2013 Kaur ran a storytelling for social change workshop, and held conversations with students about her films: Divided We Fall, and a short documentary on the shooting at a Sikh Gurdwara in Oak Creek Wisconsin (View: here). We screened “Divided We Fall” at the Ohio Union. Her storytelling for change workshop was an meaningful time for the 20 participants to reflect on social injustices in the United States. Through dialogue about personal experiences they developed ideas for how their stories could make an impact for social change.
Kaur´s time at Ohio State was highly influential. Close to 200 students were at the screening and many used Twitter to thank her for her work and help heighten awareness. For example: “Tonight I had the honor of meeting
@valariekaur and watching her documentary “Divided We Fall.” What an incredible, life changing experience” and “Just finished watching “Divided We Fall” that @valariekaur produced, heartbroken at how little things have changed since it was filmed.” The Middle East Studies Center gained from this experience in ways which will bolster our outreach methods with media and story, and raise awareness of the importance of reducing discrimination against the “Muslim-looking-other” and indeed to work against othering in general for a U.S. society that embraces diversity within unity.