I’ve never given much thought to my own faith since starting my path in higher education in 2012. I went to a large university in Kentucky, a state that most would qualify as southern. Expectedly, the university had a largely Christian student body with small Hindu and Muslim student groups as well. One of the largest organization on our state school’s campus is the Christian Student Fellowship whose number hovers around 400. CSF, as it is known, is one of the first organizations that students come into contact with during K Week (orientation the week preceding classes). They host free pancake events twice a day, at noon and midnight, for the week and half leading up to school starting. They also host the worlds largest water balloon fight that draws 9,000 participants every fall. It’s easy to say that CSF is a big deal at the University of Kentucky. They do wonderful things for the Christian student body at the school and their community is vital to student success. My question is then, how do students not identifying as Christians connect on campus?
I wouldn’t categorize myself as a particularly religious person, but I have spiritual beliefs that I hold fast to. I’m not a Christian, but I’m also not not a Christian. I was raised going to Christian churches off and on throughout my childhood and even chose to get baptized at the age of nine. I attended at YMCA summer camp for 7 years and learned about bible stories and the foundations of character that the Christian faith holds. My neighborhood growing up was largely Christian and mostly Catholic. What I’m saying is that even though I don’t strongly identify as Christian I was raised in circumstances that allow me the privilege they hold. Faith was seldom spoken about in my undergraduate career, except in regards to history and anthropology classes. We never spoke about it in the present tense. What kinds of opportunities did my peers and I miss out on by not conversing on the topic? A state school doesn’t completely negate the presence and importance of religion, but it does make it harder to decide when to have those conversations.
In Bryant’s study she reported the percentages of students of differing religions and their self-assessed levels of compassion, forgiveness, religiousness, and spirituality. In this study students of differing religions compared themselves to their peers. People of the Unitarian Universalist and Jewish faiths ranked themselves the highest in compassion while people of the Hindu and Muslim faiths ranked themselves as the highest in forgiveness. Students of Muslim and Hindu faiths reported feeling the most uncomfortable discussing their religion with peers despite the fact that they reported being the most likely to regularly practice their religions. The dichotomy hear is most certainly caused by America’s Christian centered culture.
How can we as student affairs practitioners best support students of all religions? I know the services provided look very different at public versus private schools, but I wonder how much of that could be ameliorated by proactive education. What are the guidelines that prohibit talk about religion in public schools? Comparative religions was a class at my public high school, so I am sure that our public colleges could be doing more. Religion is just another identity that should be woven in to existing inclusion services.