For building interfaith bridges

    Alumni Horizon Award
    Nakita Valerio, ’09 BA, ’17 MA, writer, entrepreneur

    Police-reported hate crimes targeting Muslims more than tripled from 2012 to 2015, according to Statistics Canada. In 2017, there were 1,752 anti‑Semitic incidents recorded in Canada — the second straight record-breaking year. These rising rates of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia fuel the work of Nakita Valerio. Her graduate studies, focused on the history of Muslim-Jewish relationships in colonial contexts, inform her research and much of what she does outside the classroom. Her mission is to help people learn to accept different cultures and understand and put into practice the organized efforts required for coexistence.

    Valerio is also a volunteer educator and community organizer. In 2016, she co-founded the AMPAC Muslim‑Jewish Women’s Collective, a group that meets monthly to share, learn, build friendships and do charity work.

    “It’s been really positive in a short amount of time,” says Valerio, who owns The Drawing Board Canada, a content development company. “There were people who had actively vowed to never sit across the table from someone of the other faith, who have had their minds changed by the group.”

    Imagine if more of these conversations were going on around the world.

    How to have a transcultural conversation

    * For anyone having exchanges with people from different cultural communities, Valerio offers some tips:

    * Approach each other with the intention to share, listen and learn. Recognize that people’s voices and experiences do not necessarily speak for their entire community, just as yours don’t.

    * Expect that things will be uncomfortable and embrace that. Discomfort is a place from which we can learn, grow and begin the journey of questioning the self.

    * Recognize that safe spaces are carefully curated and enforced. Set your boundaries and stick to them.

    * Get to know people as they are, not just as they have been labelled or as they self-identify. Identities are complex and fluid things.