Thursday, December 1, 2011

Residential Life isn’t cancelling Christmas

By Josh Kinne, Guest Writer

As the holidays approach, Pacific Lutheran Residential Life is stressing to students the importance of diversity when it comes to holiday celebrations and decorations, but that doesn’t equate to a ban on Christmas.

“We heard through the grapevine that RAs were hesitant to decorate and hold parties,” Director of Residential Programs Jeff Olsen Krengel said. “RAs can still hold holiday parties and hang decorations, but they should be considerate of residents and their beliefs.

“We just don’t want anybody to feel left out. Everybody should have a place at PLU, especially in their own rooms. We told RAs that they should consider their residents before decorating and celebrating the holidays, and some mistook that as us canceling Christmas!”

In August, Pacific Lutheran University Resident Assistants gathered for annual training. During a workshop titled “Building Inclusive Communities,” Christmas and holiday celebrations were brought up.

Olsen Krengel said no one in the Residence Hall Council said Christmas celebrations and decorations were off limits.

“We thought we were being clear,” Olsen Krengel said. “Now that the holiday season is right around the corner, these kinds of issues are popping back up. We’ve had multiple RAs approach us about this issue recently.”

Through an apparent miscommunication, RAs around campus had been halting holiday plans and packaging holiday decorations.

“Even back in Luther’s time he recognized that Catholicism wasn’t the only answer,” Olsen Krengel said. “There are other perspectives out there, and we can’t just negate them.”

Olsen Krengel said that holiday celebration is important to PLU, regardless of the holiday celebrated.

Pacific Lutheran University has strong holiday traditions. As a Lutheran school, PLU has a Christmas Tree lighting ceremony, Christmas celebrations at University chapel, an annual Christmas concert and many other Lutheran celebrations around campus. Olsen Krengel said PLU should respect its traditions but also strive to accommodate its diverse religious community.

Despite the miscommunication between RAs and ResLife, Olsen Krengel said he sees this as an opportunity to further explore the importance of diversity and interreligious holiday celebration.

“This is one of those topics where the answers aren’t black and white. Everybody has the right answer,” Olsen Krengel said. “RAs should strive to include everyone in their wing’s religious beliefs.”

Olsen Krengel said that dorms like Ordal and Hong International Hall have the right idea when it comes to religious inclusivity. Those dorms are trying to keep celebrations and decorations nonspecific to better accommodate students of varying faith.

Ordal has an annual Christmas party that includes Christmas decorations around the hall. This year, RAs call it a Holiday Party instead to accommodate non-Christian students.

“Hong has a celebration that appeals to all of the different languages and cultural traditions, while Ordal is using inclusive words like ‘holiday’ instead of Christmas,” Olsen Krengel said. “Ordal and Hong are doing it right, and hopefully the other dorms will do it right as well.”

Olsen Krengel said efforts like this can go a long way toward fostering an inclusive home environment for all religions.

“Don’t forget your residents, but we want you to feel at home too,” Olsen Krengel said.

RAs can still hold all holiday parties and hang all of their decorations. ResLife encourages hall staff to be inclusive in their celebrations.

“Just make sure you follow the fire codes,” Olsen Krengel said.