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I have a confession to make: I never thought that I would work on a project about diversity in Minnesota. Like many from my area of the country — I was born and raised just to the north of New York City — I did not immediately equate “cultural and religious diversity” with the cold land of Minnesota. In fact, I grew up listening to Garrison Keillor “A Prairie Home Companion,” and while I knew that his portrait was an exaggeration, I thought that it was an a joke based upon truth. But Minnesota throughout my college years is full of surprises, from snow in May to the fact that only a short car ride away from my adoptive home I am no longer (if I ever was) in Lake Woebegone.
Once I overcame my initial shyness (a cafeteria full of high school students is imposing!) I was immediately privy to fascinating stories, observations, and perspectives. Through conversations with all students, my eyes were opened to the myriad ways in which similar ideas are understood.
I have another confession to make: I initially thought that I could learn the most from talking with Muslim students. As a junior religion major with a focus in Islamic studies, I thought that I could learn the most through conversations with Muslim students, as it would help to connect me to “real” Islam, versus the dusty (though fascinating) books I study. Yet while I most certainly had some wonderful and informative conversations with Muslim students, I also learned so much from discussions with all the students at Faribault High School. It was amazing how willing so many students were to talk with my fellow Carleton College students and I. Once I overcame my initial shyness (a cafeteria full of high school students is imposing!) I was immediately privy to fascinating stories, observations, and perspectives. Through conversations with all students, my eyes were opened to the myriad ways in which similar ideas are understood.
While I greatly enjoyed talking with students, the greatest part of the entire project was most certainly seeing the students’ faces when the exhibit in the high school went up. For all the students who were in too much of a rush to stop and look, those who did look made all the hours of work well worth it. In particular I was fortunate enough to see one of the girls I interviewed see one of the statements she made up on the school’s wall. I saw her grab a friend, her eyes shining and her teeth flashing in a big grin, as she pointed to her quote. It was a joy to have a chance in helping to showcase the many stories that reside within the locker-lined halls of Faribault High School.