State College

Community inclusion forum provides connections

Panelists answer questions from the audience during the “Moving Forward with Inclusion: A Community Forum” on Monday night at Foxdale Village.
Panelists answer questions from the audience during the “Moving Forward with Inclusion: A Community Forum” on Monday night at Foxdale Village. Photo provided

Arthur Goldschmidt, 70, a retired professor of Middle Eastern history at Penn State, sidled up to the younger man and asked him for help. He didn’t know where to start, but the young man who spoke with eloquence hours before seemed like a good choice.

“I’m part of the committee that wants to welcome a refugee family here, but we currently have no Muslims on that welcoming committee,” Goldschmidt told him. “We ought to find someone.”

Zakariya Khayat, 24, listened and gave Goldschmidt a few contacts, including the local mosque and another faith-oriented group. In a county in which nearly nine out of 10 people are white and a state in which nearly three-fourths of adults identify as Christian, Goldschmidt’s is a difficult task — but not an impossible one. Especially since Khayat, a graduate student and former president of the Muslim Student Association at Penn State, was more than willing to help.

Goldschmidt, Khayat and about 200 others spent Monday night making connections as part of “Moving Forward with Inclusion: A Community Forum,” organized by the Centre LGBTQA Support Network and hosted by Foxdale Village. The event welcomed representatives from local government, community and faith-based organizations and the university.

Each participant of the 13-member panel spoke on issues ranging from climate change to religious tolerance before responding to questions. At the end, the attendees broke into smaller groups dedicated to specific causes.

Several among the panel expressed disappointment after November’s election, but also said that those feelings could foment action during the next four years.

“It felt like a slap in the face,” said Sarah Malone, a community organizer with Interfaith Initiative Centre County and a panelist. Andrew Shubin, a civil rights attorney, agreed. “Over the next four years, I expect to be very busy,” he said, smiling grimly.

Centre County Commissioner Michael Pipe spoke about the impact of local government, encouraging those in attendance to be active members of the political process.

“The term ‘checks and balances’ will play a huge role over the next four years,” he said.

As the State College Borough Council was adopting an immigration enforcement policy opposing the profiling and registration of non-citizens, Assistant Borough Manager Tom King shared the news with those in attendance, assuring the crowd that it will be largely business as usual with local government.

“Immigration is the responsibility of the federal government,” King said. “The important principles that we are guided by are all around those points: inclusion and equity and justice. On Jan. 20, 2017, those principles and values don’t go away because there might be a different person in the White House.”

Teresa Stouffer, 60, a retired special-education teacher, came to the event because she wanted to do more, she said. But like Goldschmidt, she was looking for a place to begin.

“I always want to help,” she said. “It’s important because we have a leader that is leading such a poor example, making fun of people with disabilities.”

For Khayat, a State College native, events such as Monday’s are about bringing people together, he said, regardless of labels. His group, for instance, the Muslim Student Association at Penn State, holds a party on Fridays that is open to anyone.

“We hand out free pizza and show that we’re normal,” he said, “and we smile, too.”

It’s there, he said, in everyday interactions that true connections can be made.

My goal is to gather people together because once you obtain justice, you obtain peace.

Zakariya Khayat

“I represent the ‘814,’ ” he said. “My goal is to gather people together because once you obtain justice, you obtain peace.”

Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy

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