It was perhaps three in the morning and intellectual dialogue flowed like discombobulated waves of water between my roommate Baby, and I. We often debate, speak, and vocalize our minds in our sleep-deprived states late at night. I can’t quite recall the specific progenitor of this particular conversation on campus, religion, and students, but I do remember rushing to my desk, rummaging around for a pen and slip of paper, and jotting down something Baby had said that had served to be an epiphany for me. She had intoned, “If you go to any college, university, or school, that’s where you’ll find true unity amongst people.”
My roommate couldn’t be closer to the truth. Outside the four little walls that form a classroom, you’ll find division. You’ll find the vivisection in religion, where identifiers like the liquid cloth covering a Muslim woman’s face, or the voluminous, curled silk resting atop a Sikh’s head will automatically single them out. You’ll find entire severances deeply rooted within communities. You’ll witness a detachment in those we choose to converse with. You can detect a demarcation lined in our own perception of reality.
But entering a place of education is akin to probing an entirely new reality.
For it is within these walls that hold the echoes of teaching that all those divides are briefly lifted. It is the coincidental seating of two individuals who are worlds away in thinking that can spark a friendship. It is the connection between two people who develop a respect for each other despite glaring dissimilarities. It is through conversation, shared tribulations in a class, occasional and unexpected meetings and the lifted presence of divisions that makes every educational atmosphere so unified. Religious differences take a step back, political ideologies may occasionally collide and then fizzle, but it is in the classroom that borders are transcended by education.
Why, one need only look to our campus to witness such a reality. Here at UMass Boston, Indians are best friends with Pakistanis, Muslims are friends with Hindus, and so many more contradictions exist in the form of the intangible magic that is friendship. You will rarely find these contradictions to be true the moment you set foot out campus. Mosques, churches, weddings, conferences—events that are designed to fuse people together—inevitably develop a hierarchical, cliquey system that breathes divides. But campuses, schools, universities—it is here that arbitrary divides disintegrate and take the potential form of friendship.
The closest friend I have at UMass Boston is a Pakistani, Punjabi, Shia Muslim woman from Lahore. I am an Indian, Uttar Pradeshi, Sunni Muslim woman whose family hails from Delhi. My best friend and I couldn’t be farther apart; the history between our respective peoples is bloody, prejudiced, and violent. Back in our home countries where our ancestral roots lie, two individuals with the same characteristics as her and I would be sworn enemies, simply on the basis of those few qualifiers. And yet, here we are at UMass Boston. We met in a class, were coincidentally in the same group project, and formed an incredible friendship. Today, we are unable to go an entire week without seeing each other. Today, our friendship is so concrete as to guarantee my presence as a constant in her life, and hers in mine.
It is within the framework of education that we—as biased individuals with our own constructions of reality—cease our unwitting asphyxiation in prejudice. Because we truly do asphyxiate in prejudice, the preventer of possible friendships and shared truths. But the classroom isn’t as unforgivable as the real world. In the classroom, the place that my roommate so cleverly pointed out as unifying, our prejudice races out the door, our truths begin to synchronize, and we become, very simply, for a brief flicker in time, students who breathe in tune together.