Attendees of the Annual Conference on South Asia gathered for a special roundtable discussion Friday on the summer shooting which took place in Oak Creek, Wis.
The shooting took place on Aug. 5, when white supremacist Wade Michael Page killed five people and wounded several others before killing himself.
Scholars from around the country came to the roundtable, which focused on mourning those who lost their lives in this tragedy, as well as giving teachers the necessary tools to spread awareness of other cultures in their classrooms.
The roundtable also focused on the mistake that many individuals, especially after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, make in assuming Sikhs and Muslims are one in the same.
Rashmi Bhatnagar, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and chair of the roundtable, said the main point of the discussion was to talk about ways in which academics can respond to the lack of understanding of the Sikh culture. Bhatnagar stressed focusing on education at a community level.
“Why should the victims have to explain their culture”? Bhatnagar said, reiterating another point a fellow attendee made.
At the roundtable, one of the topics of discussion was the Oak Creek shooting not being just an episode of mental health problems from Page. In a community, this is not just a spontaneous action, according to many roundtable attendees.
The general consensus of the roundtable was that education should focus on the local level.
During the discussion, one individual said Sikhs have been in the crosshairs of everyday violence ever since 9/11.
By people not knowing enough about Sikhism, this society is “structured into ignorance,” and the only reason peace even exists is because of segregation, another attendee said.
Donald Davis, an associate professor in the department of Languages and Cultures of Asia at the University of Wisconsin, said both students and faculty at UW face the same problem. That problem, according to Davis, is when one is away at a university, it is all too easy to disengage from the rest of the world.
“In a college environment, it seems like the stakes aren’t as high as in the real world,” Davis said. “It can appear there’s not as serious of consequences to being wrong.”
Students should feel a sense of responsibility when events like this occur – and even before the incident, Davis said. Students should make a conscious effort to educate themselves on topics outside of the classroom and to look for the beauty of different cultures and traditions.
“Students should take the great opportunity they have to learn at a great university like this one to educate themselves on Sikhism and Islam,” Davis said. “Doing that could cause [the lack of knowledge about other cultures] to diminish.”