On the morning of September 11, 2001, Professor Mark Rosenblum stood with two students in front of the Queens College library waiting for his class on the History of the Modern Middle East to begin. But the lesson plan he had prepped wouldn’t be taught that day. Professor Rosenblum and his students had an unobstructed view of downtown Manhattan, and witnessed the destruction of the Twin Towers. Because there was no transportation to leave the campus, many of his students stuck around. There was a heated discussion between a Muslim and Jewish student, and Rosenblum began to think about the importance of creating a curriculum that would force students to confront this difficult event, as well as other polarizing events plaguing their communities.
The Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding was an outgrowth of the events of September 11th and Rosenblum’s long-time expertise in contemporary Middle Eastern Studies. Rosenblum had received wide recognition for developing course and curricula that help defuse local grievances arising from the Arab-Israeli conflict. With the success of that project, Rosenblum widened his focus, wondering if there were other opportunities to assist the stunningly diverse students affiliated with Queens College in grappling with the issues that divided or united them racially, ethnically, and religiously. The creation of the Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding was a natural outgrowth of Rosenblum’s question.
Five years later, the Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding prides itself on providing a safe space for Queens College students, faculty, staff, administration, and the surrounding community to discuss and transcend divisive issues. CERRU has taken on a range of issues since its inaugural season in 2009, including Islamophobia, immigration, responding to violence and terrorism, sex trafficking and violence against women, the economic downturn and student debt, and the legacy of the civil rights movement. CERRU trains approximately thirty students per year in intensive conflict mediation and facilitation skills, and these students are an integral part in developing the programming models for investigating each issue.