In life, there are always topics that seem taboo or off-limits. Bringing up these topics in conversation can often feel awkward or inconsiderate, but Drexel University senior Kashish Shamsi feels that from these conversations comes understanding. On May 19, in Bossone’s Mitchell Auditorium, Shamsi and Drexel’s Public Relations Student Society of America chapter put together an event which invited panelists from minority groups to discuss these topics and questions that can sometimes be hard to ask.
The auditorium was nearly half full, and the stage was set up simply. There was a podium and a table at which six panelists sat. Shamsi, the host for the evening, stood at the podium and began to read off questions to which the panelists would offer opinions and related personal experiences.
In sticking with the title of “The Right Questions” Shamsi first asked the panelists to recount any awkward questions they had been asked and then change the way the questions were posed in order to make them less awkward. Immanuel Anosike, a Drexel student born in Nigeria explained some of the questions that he had been asked.
“Being from Nigeria … there’s no shortage of wrong questions I have been asked … I kind of grouped it into two kinds of questions. The first [kind] is questions that question my intelligence … questions like ‘How do you speak English?’” Anosike explained.
He continued to say that if there are questions that seem like they may be offensive or awkward to ask you could always research or google them.
The conversation then switched to more divisive and relevant topics such as cultural appropriation versus cultural appreciation, the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements and conjugating someone’s ethnic group with American (African-American, Asian-American, Arab-American).
There were many educational moments over the course of the night which spawned from questions raised to panelists knowledgeable about the topic. They would then speak on the question and clarify facts many audience members may not have known.
“LGBTQIA stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex and Asexual … keeping in mind that [it] is a pretty inclusive term, it’s not all-inclusive. There’s so many different variations. Even just in transgender [community] there are people who don’t identify with a gender at all or [who] identify with multiple genders,” panelist Angelica Riviera stated.
Kashish Shamsi is a music industry major who authored a piece “Through the Eyes of a Hijabi” for The Triangle in February. It was a piece detailing her experience when wearing her hijab in the wake of the Beirut, Paris, Buhari and Baghdad attacks. She worked together with Public Relations Student Society of America chapter president Michelle Wilson to put together the event. She saw it as an opportunity to affect more people with her message.
“My article is about how the media has portrayed minority groups, and how [Muslims] specifically [have] been portrayed. We need to put an end to it,” she said. “There are always going to be bad seeds, but to just show those bad seeds continuously is a bit of a stretch. It’s a bit of sensationalism.”
“Muslims go to work, Muslims teach, Muslims do this, Muslims do that. It’s just a religion; it’s just a belief, so to constantly [harp] on that fact like, ‘This Muslim woman was attacked; this Muslim man did this,’ is so sensational. People just hear the word Muslim and automatically it’s equivalent to terrorism,” she continued, delving deeper into the intersections of sensationalism and Islamophobia.
She continued to explain that the goal of the event was to encourage people to ask difficult questions in a sincere, empathetic way, and that through respectful conversation people could learn more about one another.
“It’s to really realize that it’s not always just one perspective, and it’s not always so black and white … when you say or do things, whether on social media or talking to your friend, just realize that there is a person on the other end … It’s important to recognize that we need to be a little more caring and understanding,” Shamsi emphasized as the biggest take away from the event.
The most important themes of the night were empathy, respect, and understanding. There were light hearted moments and there were serious moments, but through the laughter and the tears came a discussion with the goal of bringing people together so that they could ask the right questions.