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Damietta Center promotes cross-cultural understanding

"It's acknowledgment that it is fear," he said. "It's not a situation where we can flip on a light and everything gets fixed. People have to process these, people have experiences, good and bad, or whatever it is, that they might have to process and get to that point and realize, 'My fear was irrational.'"

Mayorga said that with the center located at a liberal arts college, one of the main goals of the center is to further the project outside of the classrooms and the college setting and produce students that are active members of democracy. Through that project, Mayorga hopes to help students get through disagreements and miscommunications that produce fear and lack of understanding.

"It provides an opportunity to really make mistakes, learn from them and improve from those mistakes," he said. "So we're here, not to prevent those things from happening but really hopefully, the dynamic nature of people talking to each other, hopefully from there, really, is where the learning is going to happen. Those differences and miscommunication are a blessing in disguise."

When speaking of the differences between the Catholicism and Islam, Mayorga said he wants to establish a level of understanding and mutual respect between cultures. He said the historic events that took place in Damietta have been forgotten, and it is a story he makes sure to tell when first discussing the center.

"As I was looking at the job posting, 'Why is it Damietta, what is this Damietta?'" he explained. "And when you start reading the history and doing the work you're like, 'Wow, this happened in 1219. We could use more of this.'"

To get the word out, Mayorga has been meeting with various faculty members at the college, student groups and residential halls to get the word out about the cross-cultural center. He said his biggest goal, though admittedly a tough one, is to get every student at Siena involved in one of these interfaith, cross-cultural conversations.

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