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Getting to Know You…

June 05, 2013

Chelsea Garbell
Chelsea Garbell

We know—you've heard this all before. The idea that the only way to really understand someone is to, as Harper Lee wrote, walk around in their shoes for a while. But in a recent Commencement speech by Steinhardt graduate Chelsea Garbell, who founded the club Bridges: Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue@NYU, it all rang so true as she discussed the notion that she—as an Orthodox Jewish girl from Seattle—wasn't supposed to be leaving college with so many Muslim friends.

When Chelsea came to NYU, she saw something lacking between the religious organizations on campus. Naturally curious, she wanted to find the real people behind what was easy to categorize as the "other." So she used the "productive discomfort" of mixing Jewish and Muslim students together—at meals, at parties, at services—to help locate the common ground. It wasn't always perfect, or easy, but it worked. Relationships emerged and prejudice retreated.

Chelsea also championed NYU's global network, which she used to the fullest—doing volunteer work and attending conferences in Abu Dhabi, Ghana, and Israel. She said that being exposed to vastly unfamiliar lifestyles was the best way to spot the subtle but ever-powerful glimmers that remind us of a sameness in each other and, thus, a reason to care about every "other." But we can’t typically see that by watching the news, or reading blogs like this one, or going on a vacation focused on ticking off a sightseeing list from some travel book.

The word "global" is now used so often in stories about higher education that many are tired of seeing it. But the case for expanding education's boundaries keeps being built—not just in the form of statistics and graphs, but in the words of Chelsea Garbell and so many other students like her. Their perspectives are being profoundly changed by exposure to something much bigger than the world they thought they knew.

—Jason Hollander

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