August 4th, 2008

“What’s Cooking in the Melting Pot?” (Diversity at Mayo)

By Hena Khaja

Allow me to introduce myself – my name is Hena Khaja, I am a fourth year medical student here at Mayo.  I am glad to see so many bloggers (thanks for taking the initiative Jess) because when I moved here I experienced a huge culture shock. I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. Coming from H-town, I grew up with kids from all different backgrounds.  My best friends in high school were Caucasian, Salvadorian and Taiwanese. After graduation I went to school at the University of Texas- Austin.  There, we had an enrollment of 50,000 students, that’s half the population of Rochester!  I didn’t realize that everything really is big in Texas till I left it.  Also, I am pretty diverse myself. Not only am I American, but also Indian, and Muslim, and a diehard Longhorn!

            When I first came to Rochester for the med school interview way back when in December of 2004, I remembered only two things, bitter cold and a homogenous whiteness to the town.  No that’s not true; I also remember how incredibly and genuinely nice everybody was, from the bus driver to the dean of the med school.  Luckily at the med school orientation I saw names on the roster that were more than 5 syllables, hard to pronounce and even hyphenated!  One of my classmates has the coolest name “Babatunde”.  After moving here I saw that there are pockets of diversity, Mayo pulls people from all over the world to this small town of 97,000.  Plus there is a huge Somali community, Mong, and even Hispanic population. The unfortunate part is that even though they are here, they are all pretty isolated.  I think it happens in every culture, especially in America.  Just looking at the history of the nation, so many ethnic groups have moved to this melting pot because of persecution, exile, refugee status, etc.  They came here with a deep rooted mistrust of others. Take my own parents for example-  my parents are so racist, it’s ridiculous. Sometimes it’s hard for them to see how similar Indians are to people of any other ancestry.  People have to appreciate similarities before they can appreciate differences.  I mean, come on, how do you expect me to enjoy other cultures (by that I mean their food) when there is no free flowing discourse.  That’s why I think the blog is a great idea.  It helps overcome some of the barriers that I have seen like time constraints, language issues, etc. It allows the first generation-ers like myself to reach out and abolish some of those walls that have been unnecessarily created.  

             I am really glad I made the move because Mayo really is wonderful; I wouldn’t want to train anywhere else.  There is no other institution that takes such good care of it’s employees, students, and clients.  Last year I had the opportunity to go to Mecca for pilgrimage and the administration allowed me a few days more so I could make the journey.  When I came back I started to veil and am really glad I made that choice.  It’s allowed me to create an identity for myself.  Also it’s my small way of showing the world that a Muslim can be a normal person (even though some of my friends will beg to differ on my normality).  Ever since I started veiling people would ask me what country I am from.  Then I would get a kick out of telling them that like George Bush, I am from Texas 😉  Honestly though I am really proud to be an American.  There is no positive or negative pressure to dress a certain way, to practice a certain religion, to eat certain foods. I love it because it also allows citizens to maintain their culture and heritage.  Where else can so many people of so many different backgrounds come together like we have. 

            I also wanted to put in a word for the Diversity Committee.  During first year I started to feel pretty lonely because I had no one to practice my culture with; I was the only Muslim in my class and I really didn’t have time to interact with anyone else.  I went to the Dean and she pointed me to the Diversity Committee.  This is Mayo’s board of members that work on making the Mayo Clinic more culturally aware to address the needs of our diverse patients, promote leadership, recruitment, and retention.  The Diversity Committee was key in setting me up with a website that is maintained by Mayo and the opportunity to interact with other diversity groups.  You guys may not know but we have the following groups here: African Descendants Support Network Diversity Networking Group, Circle of Caribbean Latin African Sisters Diversity Networking Group, Faith Based Diversity Networking Group, GLBTI Professional Mentorship Group, Jamaican Diversity Networking Group, Muslim Culture Diversity Networking Group, Native American Programs, and Newcomers' Diversity Networking Group. There are links to each group on http://mayoweb.mayo.edu/diversity-rst/networking.html

            Also, the MCDNG is planning a huge event – the 2nd Annual Rochester Islamic Conference.  This event is open to all, Muslims and non Muslims, and the sessions for the first day are geared to educate others about the Islamic culture (don’t worry it’s not an attempt to convert Rochester). It’s a friendly invitation to come and see what Muslims are about so you can work with and live with them better.  Plus, we are going to have Somali, Arab, and South Asian foods so even if you don’t care to hear the lectures, come eat some grub.  Well I think I have said all I can about diversity and my efforts to promote it here at Mayo.  Thanks for reading.  Love, peace, and soul!      Islamic Conference

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