Students celebrate race, ethnicity and religion through on-campus organizations
Destino members gather by the ocean. Destino is a Hispanic and Latinx Christian organization on the UA campus. (Photo courtesy Brianna Burnett)
There are dozens of ways to get involved on campus at the UA. Students can participate in groups that share their politics, culture, hobbies, interests, religion and fields of study. For many Wildcats, race, ethnicity and religion all overlap through their participation in religious organizations.
Groups like Destino, Epic Movement and the Hillel Foundation provide worship and fellowship, as well as a place where students can celebrate their culture and connect with students of the same heritage.
For Brianna Burnett, a junior majoring in family studies and human development, participation in Destino, the Latinx and Hispanic Christian organization, has been a seminal part of her time at the UA.
“As a freshman, I knew I needed to find a community because the Bible talks a lot about the importance of community,” Burnett said. “I loved [Destino] so much because [with it] I was kind of back in my culture… it felt nice to be in this familia."
Burnett, who is originally from the Dominican Republic, joined Destino her freshman year and has been an active member since. Destino met on Monday nights around six and participated in two conferences each year with members from other universities, according to Burnett. Now, to stay safe during the pandemic, they meet digitally using Zoom.
Destino is not the only Christian organization that also celebrates a specific heritage. Epic Movement, which met on Tuesday nights pre-pandemic, is an Asian and Asian-American group, according to Sherry Chi. For Chi, a literacy, learning and leadership major from Taiwan, Epic provided a solution to the struggle of finding students who had both race and religion in common with her.
“I find [Epic] to be a very welcoming community, because Asian is such a minority in Arizona and in Tucson,” Chi said. "It’s rare to have a community that is Asian and also Christian, so I think people really cherish this community and try to make it as welcoming as possible. I think everyone knows how hard it can be to be a racial minority and to [find] friends who believe the same things as you do.”
Lisa Friedman, a senior majoring in literacy, learning and leadership, is on the student leadership team and board of directors of the Hillel Foundation, a Jewish organization on campus. For Friedman, being active in Hillel not only helped her to make friends, but also eased the transition into college.
“Judaism has always been a large part of my life. I knew that if I went to Hillel, I'd instantly have this connection with people because we're all Jewish,” she said. “Freshman year, I immediately went to Hillel and made friends and felt really welcomed in the space, and it gave me the support system that I really needed going into this new environment that I wasn't familiar with.”
Another important part of participation in Hillel, for Friedman, was the organization's inclusiveness and desire to celebrate other people and other religions alongside Judaism.
“We're open to anyone coming and checking us out, especially if you're interested in Judaism and learning more about religion,” Friedman said.
She also spoke about an annual interfaith service, which Hillel hosts in the springtime.
“We invite people from all the religious organizations on campus to come to the Hillel building for Shabbat,” Friedman said. The service features both a Jewish and an Islamic prayer service.
After the service was over, the members from the Hillel Foundation and the Islamic Center of Tucson spend some time together.
“We all sit down for a meal together and usually we propose some questions and ask each other about our religions,” Friedman said. “And [we] see the similarities and differences between the religions and just get to know each other. It's really, really awesome.”
RELATED: UA student takes all in quiz bowl
Friedman, Chi and Burnett all hope that students who are curious about religion can feel welcome at their organizations.
“I want [other students] to know that we're not out there to change them,” Burnett said. “We accept them as they are.”
Friedman in particular encourages students to keep an open mind about new and different beliefs.
“I feel like there's such a stigma behind religion. It's usually portrayed as this really crazy out there thing where you have to believe everything and you have to just follow all these rules,” Friedman said. “And I'd say that's not always the case. I'd say that it's up to you to figure out what you believe and what you don't believe and it's up to you to find that community within yourself and within others.”
Destino, Epic, the Hillel Foundation and the Islamic Center are all still very active online despite the pandemic. Students who are interested in connecting with the organizations can find information about Destino on Facebook and Instagram, about Epic on Instagram, the Hillel Foundation’s website and the Islamic Center’s Facebook page.
Follow Katie Beauford on Twitter