Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minn., spoke at St. Thomas Friday and began his speech about Saudi Arabia with a story about his ties to the university.
“I remember this place. It must be my good luck charm,” Ellison said about the campus after sharing his memories of studying for the bar exam at St. Thomas.
The Saudi Club, the Muslim Student Association and the Muslim-Christian Dialogue Center sponsored the event. The event was held in the O’Shaughnessy Educational Center auditorium, and a dialogue about Islam in America followed Ellison’s speech.
Ellison shared his story as the first Muslim elected to Congress and spoke about his many travels, which include visits to Saudi Arabia. His speech focused on overturning American and Saudi stereotypes of one another, as well as his opinion of terrorist stereotypes.
“You can’t simply say religion or Islam is the problem,” Ellison said. “[The Jihad] interpretation of the religion is the problem.”
Senior Nick Kor said he supported the goal behind the speech.
“He broke a lot of the stereotypes people would have about Islamic people,” Kor said. “It’s an important thing to do on this campus.”
Kor said he believed the event could start a much-needed discussion between Catholics and Muslims on campus.
Junior Sha Mohammed said the speech showed Islam in a different light and initiated discussions about people’s thoughts on the religion.
“A majority of people on campus treat Islam with respect, but I hope that his visit might have helped those who don’t know much about the religion and don’t judge the religion by the actions of small radical groups,” Mohammed said.
Attendees had the opportunity to ask Ellison questions after the speech.
“I liked the diverse topics that people tried to cover over the discussion,” Mohammed said. “I believe he did a great job in answering the questions that he thought would be appropriate for him to answer.”
Ellison said St. Thomas is a friend to Saudi students and praised the university for enrolling 50 Saudi students.
The clubs that hosted the event made up the majority of the attendees. Most of the seats in the first level of the auditorium were filled.
Kor said he was disappointed with the audience turnout at the event, and wished a wider variety of students had attended.
“This is the type of event we need on campus, and sadly it was talking to the people who already know about the issues,” he said.
Gina Dolski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.