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Madison Native Hopes To Mend World’s Rifts

Courtesy OF Catie honeyman 04

Catie Honeyman '04

When Catie Honeyman ‘04 sat down to choose a concentration during her first year at Harvard, she didn’t even look at the Handbook for Students.

“I always have trouble doing the path that is laid out so I didn’t even look at the concentrations available,” says the Madison, Wis. native. “I just wanted to make my own.” She ended up proposing a special concentration combining social psychology, history and sociology.

Her application was rejected—she will graduate tomorrow with a Social Studies degree—but that itch to break out from prescribed paths has stayed with Honeyman. It drove her work in two Harvard student groups that promote diversity, the Interfaith Council and the Race Culture, and Diversity (RCD) Initiative. It also landed her in places as distant as the Czech Republic, Honduras, and Rwanda as she worked to unite divided peoples by fostering greater cross-cultural understanding.

Honeyman helped to establish the Interfaith Council in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which she says led many to question the role of religion in public life. The group participated in an interfaith memorial in Tercentenary Theater shortly after the attacks.

That initial interfaith assembly furthered the momentum for others, including a one year memorial of Sept 11., featuring music associated with different faiths, and a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day pledge service.With Honeyman serving as co-coordinator for the Council this past year, its foundation also finally solidified, with representatives from different student groups holding bimonthly dinner discussions on topics such as prayer and the religious symbols.

Honeyman says many of her current beliefs developed after a year abroad in the Czech Republic during high school.

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“I wanted to get away. I went to a rural school in a rural town,” Honeyman says. “I just wanted to be in a different situation. Since I was really young, I had this general interest in places that had experienced conflict and war between ethnic groups and religious groups.”During that year abroad, Honeyman became impressed with what she describes as the positive and socially conscious ethic of the Baha’i students at her school and converted to the Baha’i faith.

“The students there had a lot of direction in their lives in a certain way that was unfamiliar to me,” says Honeyman. “They knew a lot more about what was going on in the broader context of the country in the continent they lived on. They thought of themselves of doing something positive in whatever situation.”

Baha’i stressed religious commonalities “to achieve global civilization,” Honeyman explains, Baha’i also stresses equality and tolerance among diverse groups. “They insist [on] eradicating prejudice, upholding equality of men and women.”

It is that aspect of the Baha’I faith that propelled Honeyman to co-found the Race, Culture and Diversity (RCD) Initiative. Through a network of House tutors and student liaisons, RCD hosts House-based discussions on issues like socioeconomic class consciousness and gender roles.

“I’ve really focused on that side of Baha’i teaching that [talks] about the prejudice and misconceptions, not valuing or recognizing the worth of other people,” says Honeyman.Honeyman says her passion for global conscious was also fostered by her placement in Hurlbut during her freshman year, which she says had a a disproportionately high international population. It continued with her summer travel to places like Rwanda, and later Honduras for thesis research, a thesis for which she won a Hoopes prize.

After graduation, Honeyman will again travel to Rwanda to resume her study of educational initiatives implemented in developing countries.

But she’s confident that her legacy at Harvard will last.

“I consider [the Interfaith Council] one of the most valuable things I’ve spent my time on here because I know that it’s really one of those things that didn’t exist before and I know that it has enough momentum to continue.”

—Staff writer Jasmine J. Mahmoud can be reached at mahmoud@fas.harvard.edu.

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