Reflection on an Empathy Writing Assignment for SUA Graduate School by Richard Mazel GS '99

Jonathan Epstein’s K-12 methodology class was a wonderful chance to explore concerns close to our hearts. Many of Jonathan’s assignments were about discovery. One assignment stays in my mind. It was writing an empathy piece where students had to find some event from a different culture and write an entry as if in the diary of the person who was experiencing that event. Because I am a member of the LGBTQ community, I chose as my entry to be a young person from a Navajo tribe—whose biological gender was male—who chose to become a “female” in a rite of passage ritual. I did light research about the topic of the so-called Berdaches, or Nádleeh in Navajo culture, and wrote a wondrous entry from a diary as if I was the person going through a Navajo ritual, describing the clothes I chose to wear and my feeling of excitement about a process that would define my new role within the tribal community. 

When our class subsequently visited the Grand Canyon during a break, we had the opportunity to witness an actual Navajo tribal presentation at our hotel. After the presentation, I asked one of the tribal representatives about the existence of Navajo Lesbian Supernatural Prototypes that I had read about in an anthropology book on Native American cultures. He acknowledged their presence in Navajo culture. 

The following quotation from Daisaku Ikeda epitomizes the spirit of empathy so necessary in today’s world:

“What our society today needs more than anything is the spirit of empathy—the ability to put ourselves in the shoes of those who are facing hardship and suffering, to understand and share what they are going through. When the spirit of compassion becomes the bedrock of society, and is embodied by society’s leaders, the future will be bright with hope.”

(Daisaku Ikeda, “Quotations On the Theme of Compassion: Daisaku Ikeda Website,” Home, accessed February 21, 2021,

I would like to thank Jonathan and all the other teachers, students, administrators and staff at SUA who made my experience at SUA so meaningful.  

Lastly, I would like to express my deepest gratitude to SUA founder Daisaku Ikeda, who for over 70 years has worked tirelessly for world peace.