AMS adds religious issues committee

Educating students is top priority, co-founder says

Kavita Bissoondial hopes the committee will promote greater understanding of religious issues.
Kavita Bissoondial hopes the committee will promote greater understanding of religious issues.

In September, students will have a new forum to address religious issues through the formation of a Religious Issues Committee (RIC) within the Social Issues Commission.

The committee is the brainchild of Safiah Chowdhury, ArtSci ’11 and Roisin Hartnett, ConEd ’11, who were interns during the 2007-08 school year for former social issues commissioner Jeff Brown.

The motion for the formation of the committee was given one reading and passed at the AMS Annual General Meeting in March.

Brown said he believes this initiative will help students of faith feel less disenfranchised on campus.

“It will be a formal acknowledgement and will put religious identity on the radar within the AMS,” he said. “I don’t buy the argument that we live in a secular society.”

Chowdhury, who will chair the RIC when it starts in September, is also a member of the Queen’s Muslim Student Association.

“We [Roisin and I] had noticed that the Social Issues Commission had nothing with regards to religion,” she said. “We found it interesting that there was nothing addressing this.”

Chowdhury said education will be the committee’s main priority.

“I find that there is a lack of knowledge but I find that there is still a sense of curiosity amongst students at Queen’s,” she said. “We want to get rid of the stereotypes and the misconceptions that many people have about faith and religion.”

Hartnett, AMS Deputy of Education, said she’s witnessed a lot of religious intolerance and hopes the RIC will help nurture acceptance on campus.

“I have friends whose houses have been vandalized because they are visibly persons of faith and I know people who have been stalked because of their religious beliefs,” she said. “I think that [the RIC] will help people acknowledge that there are religious practitioners who are discriminated against on campus and that it is a problem.”

Hartnett said hiring for the committee will happen in September.

Social Issues Commissioner Kavita Bissoondial said she thinks the RIC will promote understanding of the different aspects of faith on campus.

“There’s a lot of miscommunication in terms of religious beliefs on campus,” she said. “At a lot of universities, the atmosphere is extremely atheist so those who choose to believe in a religion are often made fun of or made to feel less intelligent for their beliefs. … That’s discrimination.”

Bissoondial said the committee won’t just serve students of faith.

“RIC should be open to everyone,” she said. “Believing in no religion is a belief in itself. RIC should be open to a diversity of belief.”

Bissoondial said it’s premature to discuss future RIC campaigns and initiatives.

“It’s important to look at how religion coincides with issues such as race and gender,” she said. “However, these are discussions that will have to be discussed in the future, not the first semester.”

University Chaplain Rev. Brian Yealland believes that religion and academics should not be perceived as being mutually exclusive.

“Quite often students don’t mention their religious background because there is an impression that academia is anti-religious. … I’m looking for an environment in which people are quite open to express their own views while being respectful of differing views.”

Yealland is optimistic that the committee will help to create a more positive environment for students of faith on campus.

“In an environment like a university we hope that this would lead to more openness about people’s backgrounds and more awareness about people’s faith.”

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