I’m not a religious person. I never have been, and I’m not sure I ever will be. It just wasn't a part of my upbringing. Do I believe in God? Probably not. But do I understand why others do? Of course. (As a physician-in-training, it’s very difficult to deny the power of spiritual community.) So to be honest, I’m not sure I really have much authority to speak on religious grounds. But this really isn't about religion. It’s about courage.
Yesterday morning, I read on Facebook (through the excited posts of many college friends), that my alma mater was going to begin a tradition of chanting a weekly Muslim call-to-prayer from the Duke Chapel bell tower.
I posted this shortly thereafter:
Now imagine my shock when I heard today that, in the face of criticism, Duke canceled these plans, issuing this deeply unsatisfying explanation:
“Duke remains committed to fostering an inclusive, tolerant and welcoming campus for all of its students,” said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations. “However, it was clear that what was conceived as an effort to unify was not having the intended effect.”
Here’s the thing, Duke. We’re no stranger to controversy. I started at Duke in 2007 and graduated in 2011. I can’t even count on my two hands the number of times that some “scandal” broke out during my time there. (Hint: it’s not because I’m missing any fingers.) After all, what other college has its own tag on a smutty “news” website?
But amid all the sex scandals, the childish antics, and the public embarrassment, I brushed it off. Because I know Duke for what it truly is: a place of tolerance, of community, of wonderful people and wonderful opportunities — a place where, during my first week at the university, the president got up in front of the entire class of 2011—in the very Chapel at the center of today’s decision—and said:
“We want you to come together to create a common Duke culture that you will all be at home in, and I don’t doubt you will. But it would be a loss if drawing together kept you from learning from one another’s differences. You’ll be way better prepared when you leave Duke if you know how to appreciate the different thinking of many more branches of the human family than you know today, and the people sitting around you could give you the means. But this it won’t happen unless you reach out, open yourselves to each other, and struggle to grasp the human lesson that every other person here embodies.”
I still get chills when I think about that speech. That was when I knew I had found home.
So please, it’s not too late to reconsider this decision. It won’t be the first time we’ve changed our minds, and it certainly won’t be the last. The fanatics and crazies of the world will forget, but the Crazies will not.
Let’s show some courage.
Trinity College ‘11