GRAY AREA: College should be a place to share religion freely.

Natalie Gray

Part of the college experience is finding and creating oneself, adapting to new cultures and exploring different beliefs. This experience should not include students being badgered for their chosen faith and world views.

Los Angeles City College art student Jonathan Lopez’s public speaking professor called him a “fascist bastard” in 2008 during Lopez’s speech on faith and marriage (Alliance Defense Fund, 2009).

On a campus as diverse as Sacramento State, students look for a niche where they can meet others sharing similar ideologies. With organizations like the Greeks, sports and clubs, it seems easy to find a perfect social connection.

For some students, religion may be a major factor when considering a college. Some find it better to attend schools based around their religious preference to avoid any type of harassment. For those who don’t, feeling accepted may be more of a challenge.

“I have not personally felt religious oppression on campus,” said Tony Cortese, campus minister for the Newman Catholic community at Sac State. “But I have heard professors make snide comments and misconceptions when my faith comes into the topic.”

The topic of religion becomes the elephant in the classroom. Some professors do not know how to retort without sounding arrogant and some students do not know how to accept when a topic needs to be dropped.

Professors need to take heed when responding to students on the topic of religion. It’s disheartening to students when they’re publicly mocked for their faith. Opinions should be respected, regardless of the professors’ personal beliefs.

“I believe this can be a real issue between students and professors at some colleges,” Cortese said. “At Sac State though, I think the professors are accepting and mostly respectful on the topic.”

On the opposite side, students must realize their faith – or sometimes lack there of – will be questioned for benefit of discussion, not to insult them. There is a line between scoffing at people’s beliefs and inquiring about them.

“It’s quite normal and welcome in our classes to have students explain various religious views that they have, or have been exposed to,” said religious studies professor Matthew McCormick, sponsor for the Atheist Student Organization at Sac State. “In my Philosophy of Religion classes, students regularly speak up about their beliefs.”

Religious stereotyping and criticism is not just coming from the professors, but from fellow students as well. The pressure to live a normal life causes a sense of exclusion for those who have less traditional beliefs or practices of faith.

“The ASO frequently has tables or events where they speak to others on campus about their religious views,” McCormick said. “Many of these exchanges are respectful and rewarding, but many people are hostile to atheism and are sometimes confrontational, rude or disrespectful.”

On top of having beliefs seen as nontraditional, students showing faith more publicly (headdresses, prayer beads and more) are likely to face more hostility than students who are more discreet.

The problem is not that Sac State is diverse and holds students from a plethora of backgrounds. The problem is when students are placed in stereotypes based on their religion.

“People with minority views on a heated and emotional topic will regularly encounter incivility, anger and derision,” McCormick said.

If faith comes up in conversation, people look at that person like a crazy Republican trying to shove religion in someone’s face. People associate religious with Republican and non-religious with democrat. It is a naïve way of thinking college students need to grow away from.

Another disturbing stereotype students face is the assumption every person wearing a religious headdress, called a turban, pagri or hijabs, is a member of some terrorist group.

“Students should never feel judged on their own campus or anywhere else,” said CRU Director Greg Triplett. “I’m extremely proud of the work I see students in CRU doing around campus. Students respond when they feel accepted.”

Students across the country face religious persecution daily and many campuses do not offer much relief. At Sac State, though, it seems the religious student body feels comfortable and safe expressing faith around campus and in class.

“The sort of enlightenment that we strive for in a liberal arts education is intellectual growth that is stimulated by an open inquiry into competing worldviews,” McCormick said.

College is an opportunity to widen beliefs and explore new ways of thinking. Giving careful thought and being open to different views and examining the evidence for each is one of the most important parts of the college experience.

Natalie Gray can be reached at [email protected]