Jonathan Warkentin: Appreciating Diversity and Celebrating Humanity

Jonathan is currently a student at Loyola University Chicago’s International Studies. In his personal story, he shares how his own experiences in melding with different cultures and people globally have helped shape his perspective on fostering dialogue through understanding, and appreciating differences that connect us together. He is currently an intern with MALA for the Fall 2016 semester. 


Ever since I can remember, my parents have encouraged me to appreciate people different than me, celebrate diversity, and see the humanity in others. Beginning at the age of three, I attended a preschool and elementary school in which I was one of maybe four white kids in my grade. And so, from such an early age, it became normal for me to find myself in environments almost entirely filled with people of cultures and backgrounds other than my own. Since then, I have become close with multiple immigrant families. I have spent innumerable hours in the homes of friends of Pakistani, Mexican/Guatemalan, and Vietnamese/Filipino backgrounds. Along with those relationships, for over five years my family has known and visited a young man who was on Tennessee’s death row, thanks to a program that works to achieve such introductions. I believe this connection was key in helping me realize that people in stigmatized situations are just as much people as everyone else.

In line with my intercultural experiences, I have studied Spanish in school for over six years and have dabbled in a variety of other languages on my own time including Arabic, Vietnamese, and Korean. In choosing a college, I wanted to be able to continue to pursue my interest in languages as well as in in visual media, both of which I hope to use in my future work. I struggled with deciding between, on one hand, financial feasibility and proximity to home, and on the other, an entirely new experience filled with a myriad of potential experiences and people of all kinds of backgrounds. In the end, I realized that I didn’t want to find myself at eighty years old wondering what would have happened if I had tried the new experience, and so I wound up choosing to major in International Studies at Loyola University Chicago.

I am excited to work with MALA to broaden general familiarity with Muslim American culture and all cultures. Growing up in the south, it was not uncommon to notice racism as a motive for people’s actions – at times subtly, and at others not so much. I believe that by recognizing the humanity in others it is easier to let go of prejudice, and the best way to do that is for people to, quite simply, meet people. Though at times circumstances do not bring people of different backgrounds into close personal contact, through sharing stories it is still possible to foster an understanding of others and, despite physical boundaries, meet people.

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