How Did Langar Become The Basis For A University Course?

For centuries, the Sikh community has practiced and celebrated Langar....

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In the spirit of Chardi Kalaa, a time of difficulty can become an opportunity for growth.  This is what happened when Covid arrived in Colorado and canceled the Fifth Annual Langar-in-the-Park. Rather than sit and wait, Colorado Sikhs and University of Denver worked together to build a unique experience for students.

Since November 2016 the Langar-in-the-Park has served as an intercultural, interfaith, and interracial space to welcome and celebrate a shared love of humanity and oneness in social community while resisting division, violence, and bigotry. What began through an annual service of 10,000 meals and 500 volunteers has expanded over the years to incorporate music, dance, dialogue, and reconnection.

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“I was inspired by Langar-in-the-Park volunteer and attendee reflections of personal fulfillment such as ‘this is what unity looks like’,” shared Marji Karish, co-director of the intercultural Langar-in-the-Park and adjunct professor at the University of Denver. “Langar provides a unique space to promote the public good, help those in need, and bridge divides. The growth of excitement and commitment to Langar has been personally rewarding for me, and I am grateful for the opportunity each year as we expand to new communities.”

When COVID came to Colorado in 2020, the annual Langar-in-the-Park was put on hold, but the intention to expand Langar through intercultural communities was not. The University of Denver was seeking opportunities for experiences incorporating inclusivity, equity, and diversity and reached out to Professor Karish for ideas.

Marji enlisted Dilpreet Jammu, president of the Colorado Sikhs, to create a curriculum where students would engage with community leaders in promotion of the public good.  The students had a primary objective: to develop a model that would replicate an intercultural Langar for Universities focused on unity and oneness.  A model that could easily be transported to other universities and educational institutions across the world.

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In Spring 2021 Professor Karish ran an online course over Zoom with undergraduate students learning cross-cultural collaboration through hands-on project management, marketing, promotion, branding, logistics, volunteer coordination, security, community engagement, and entertainment, in addition to the meal, with tangible results.  

“Universities can be rigid and focused on just theory. I was impressed that University of Denver was willing to give so much leeway to Professor Karish. That level of trust quickly translated to an innovative, multi-disciplinary course that incorporated the key business and organizational skills that students will need in the real world. They were able to practice these skills and prepare for their careers. This course really broke the mold,” said Dilpreet Jammu.

The students loved organizing a fun event within their teams. Many had not heard of a Langar and quickly identified with the humanistic aspect. After several iterations with various community panels, students identified the Langar as a ‘truly special way to bring people together,’ a ‘rich meaningful experience,’ and a ‘celebration of unity highlighting the bright side of humanity.’ 

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“This class taught me how to make human connections in a different, more meaningful way. As a student, this class has been very different from the other courses I have taken. It was hard work, especially over Zoom, but Professor Karish guided us through product development, just like I would experience in the real world. We started with most of us not knowing who the Sikhs were or what a Langar was and we ended with a presentation to DU’s leadership where they made the commitment to bring a Langar on campus.”

That commitment is at the highest levels of the organization; reaching to the Office of the Chancellor and the Office of the Provost.  Through their support, the University of Denver is hosting its first community Langar, in partnership with their students.

“DU is excited to have a course utilizing Langar for a 4 Dimensional student experience,” Said Chase McNamee, Senior Project Manager of the Community + Values initiative in the Office of the Provost at the University of Denver. “Our community seeks to make a difference in the world through our Five Strategic Imperatives with broader student engagement outside the classroom, meaningful connections with others, and a diversity of experiences.  We appreciate our partnership with Colorado Sikhs and look forward to strengthening our relationship.”

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The [email protected]  takes place on June 4, 2022 and is again guided by the students participating in the Inclusive Community course. Undergraduate students enrolled at the University of Denver are encouraged to learn more and register. As one student commented, “The Sikh community is about giving and not expecting anything in return because everyone that attends gives something, anything, no matter if it's large of small, and does so because it's who one is and what they want to be like when they attend a Langar.”

“Having a Langar at a local University is not new,” stated Naureen Singh, Policy Director, Colorado Sikhs. “What is new is having a course dedicated to bringing Langar on campus with a focus on the values that Langar brings to the greater community. I feel the model the students have created could be utilized in cities and colleges across North America. The beauty of the model is that any community, be it Sikh, interfaith, or academic, has access to the template of how to make the event a reality.”

For centuries, the Sikh community has practiced and celebrated Langar. In our modern world of technology where we are all closer than geographical constraints, the ability to share tools for connection make intercultural Langar more accessible and brings the promise of Langar to bridge divides and connect like-minded people in focus. The [email protected] is a precursor to the 5th Annual Langar-in-the-Park to take place in downtown Denver in the fall of 2022. 

To keep up to date with the latest news regarding [email protected] and Langar-in-the-Park, visit https://www.du.edu/community-values/langaratdu

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