My life inside a fishbowl: College and Religion

( Content License, “Fish bowl Top View,” by Asif Akbar)

I have come to realize that thousands of students, myself included, live inside a fishbowl right now. The fishbowl has always been there, and might still be there hundreds of years from now. It’s called The Fishbowl Effect.

You see, college is a fishbowl. We look through the clear walls to examine the world without the possible endangerment. Only, disagreements happen everywhere, it’s a part of nature to judge. And so the fishbowl may actually be hurting us more than the actual ocean out there. It can negatively shape parts of our identity by teaching us what’s to be contained, where, and how. These implications can be most seen through my main focus: religion.

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Religion matters on my campus in terms of this “fishbowl” because it shows its implications in practice through people’s lives. It is an important part of some of the lives of my peers. To see the impact of religion in this theory, I sent out a survey to some of my first-year college classmates, and 30.76 percent of them said that they believed in some sort of religion. Admittedly, it’s less than a third of the population affected by this aspect of the theory, but the number isn’t as important so long as there are people who are affected by discrimination in our sphere.

It isn’t enough to just say discrimination exists, but show an example of it happening and how people have responded to it negatively. During my investigation of discrimination on my campus I met with Sarah, a student leader at Campus Christian Fellowship. She highlighted an alarming case of discrimination, a chunk of the interview as follows:

“I have a Jewish roommate and she says there’s a lot of antisemitism for her. There’s been some things in the dormitories where Jewish students were threatened. And so someone last year hung dolls and had a sign that specifically said they were Jewish, and someone put the Swastika Nazi sign on a person’s dorm room that was Jewish.”

This is an obvious case of discrimination, and while my university does have standards against antisemitism, my university’s Associated Students government board still reacted poorly to the situation. They refused to have their words recorded when I asked what they were doing about this, and said they couldn’t voice their opinions on it knowing it’d only create more conflict.

This is an example of The Fishbowl Effect in practice. The avoidance of the topic, religion, in the face of obvious tension solely in the hopes of avoiding more tension is ridiculous, and exemplifies how protecting our little environment may be actually hurting us by not addressing things that need to be addressed properly.

Unfortunately, religion isn’t the only one affected by The Fishbowl Effect, despite it being the easiest to see. Race, sexuality, women, every minority that has ever fought for notice on campus has to because sometimes we think not talking about the problems will help them go away. Things that need to be noticed should be noticed, and the walls of the fishbowl surrounding my university and many others instruct us on what exactly should be contained, where, how, and most importantly why.

My theory isn’t the first of its kind to notice this, Tim Clydesdale has what he calls a Lockbox Theory in “SSRC Guide: Religious Engagement Among American Undergraduates.” His idea is that students form a mental shield to protect themselves from opinions that conflict with their own when observing the discrimination I observed earlier. Only, his theory says that all college students form this shield, and, knowing peers that don’t care what others think about them, it’s most likely that the shield he is suggesting is more like the walls of The Fishbowl Effect.

Is there a solution to all of this? Well, yes. It involves leaving the fishbowl, opening up the environment to questioning and willingness to change, and leaving behind this bowl of old ways of doing things. There’s no way to eradicate discrimination, but we as college students can work towards leaving the fishbowl. We can stop avoiding things for the sake of avoiding them in a small environment, and work together towards a new ocean of ideas where every student is protected and the lack of rights is not only noticed but changed.