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UAlbany: A Melting Pot of Expression

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BY SARAH KEARNS

 

The University at Albany has a noticeably diverse student population. This can be seen in many ways, often predominately based on race and ethnicity, but there are other ways students choose to express their diversity and individuality.

When looking at the way students dress, there are many who choose to express their religious identity and fulfill their beliefs through clothing.

Avi Solkoff, a UAlbany student said, “Specifically I wear a few articles of Jewish clothing everyday; one religiously mandated, one traditionally worn but not religiously mandated… and the third a Jewish symbol, but its more reminiscent of my grandfather that passed away.”

“The religiously mandated one is called tzitzit,” he elaborated. He said he has been wearing this garment full time for the last year and a half.

“The second piece,” Solkoff said, “is a kippah/yarmulke, the ‘skullcap’ that observant Jews tend to wear.”  He has been wearing this for the last 6 years; the third is a Star of David necklace that belonged to his grandfather.

Solkoff explained that he feels comfortable wearing cultural and religious clothing at UAlbany because of the “open and liberal nature of the campus.”  He added that in his three-plus years at the school he has never experienced intolerance based on his expression through clothing, and he feels confident that if he ever had, he could report it and it would be properly handled.

UAlbany has an organized group, Interfaith Coalition, which supports students’ religious identities and expression on campus.  The Interfaith Center, while not technically part of the University, is on campus grounds and is a place where students of any religious affiliation may go; often students who are not affiliated with religion go there as well.

Derek Healey, the Interfaith Center’s Administrative Assistant and President Emeritus of the Interfaith Coalition said, “I do feel UAlbany is accepting of various cultural and religious expressions through clothing, however, only some. As it is tolerant of multicultural women’s clothing, i.e. Arabic-Muslim female hijab and male kuffis, male Jewish kippot, and female African head wraps; I have not seen many others expressed.”

That does not seem to be because there would be criticism for expression though.  Healey said, “Once I heard how a female Muslim sister had her hijab pulled at by someone, but that’s the only negative. I’d say [there are] predominantly positive responses.”

While the diversity currently seen on campus is well accepted or tolerated, Healey has high hopes that more people will begin to express their identities through clothing.

He said, “I’ve seen very little diversity in cultural textiles: kilts, sarongs, and haoris, especially from the male-identifying population. I feel this has more to do with American constructs of pop cultural fashion trends than anything else. We are after all the land of blue jeans as a daily staple.”

Healey is optimistic about the direction the Interfaith Center and interfaith events on campus are going because he wishes for and plans to promote more and more expression.

“Many [students] I think realize that the University is supposed to be a melting pot of culture and expression.” Healey concluded, “And to be honest, I may just start wearing my kilts more often now!”

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