What does Christian privilege look like at Duke University?

In light of last week’s controversy over the University’s decision—and then reversal of that decision—to allow the Muslim Adhan to be broadcast from the top of the Chapel, I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Christian in the interfaith community that is the Duke student body.

As I saw many of my friends and mentors receive hate mail—even threats of violence—I was struck by the unfairness of the claims being made against them. I was first and foremost incensed by the stereotypical and extraordinarily hurtful claims about Islam, which were clearly based in ignorance and certainly not reflective of the nature of Muslim life at Duke.

Many critics made the claim that Duke, as a Methodist university, should not allow non-Christian expressions of faith. While Duke may have Methodist roots, it now has no denominational affiliation and claims to fully support religious pluralism, so this argument falls short.

Other critics argued the exact opposite, saying that the university has no place allowing public expressions of faith on campus. Such a claim is based on the premise that religion is somehow already not a part of university life, that Duke is somehow religion-neutral. Think about that—were we to desire to completely sever religious life from Duke public life, we would need to tear down the Chapel, eliminate the Divinity School and most Christian student group programming and completely redesign the architecture of our campus.

Still others claimed that Duke prioritized Islam over Christianity when at first it allowed Muslim students to conduct an important ritual of their faith. Especially after reflecting on the unique benefits that are afforded to me as a Christian student at Duke, it is overwhelmingly clear to me that Christianity remains the predominant faith on this campus.

And so, in response to these claims, I have compiled a list of 25 visible examples of Christian privilege and predominance at Duke:

1. There is a cross in the center of the Duke crest.

2. Duke’s West Campus was intentionally laid out in the shape of a cross.

3. There is a giant Christian chapel in the middle of West Campus.

4. The Chapel has become arguably the most recognizable symbol of Duke University.

5. Many secular campus events—for example, convocation—take place in the Chapel.

6. Duke supports a prominent Christian Divinity School, which is situated in the heart of campus and contains yet another chapel.

7. The chapel bells play hymns from my religious tradition eight times a week, and they can be heard from as far away as Central Campus.

8. Each year, on Good Friday, the Chapel hosts a Procession of the Stations of the Cross that travels around the main quad carrying a giant cross—and using the same amplification device that the Muslims used for their call to prayer last week.

9. Undergraduates sometimes have classes, including classes unrelated to religion, in the Divinity School, where many classrooms are adorned with a cross and a Bible.

10. The Chapel hosts several Christian religious services each week.

11. In addition to the services hosted by the Chapel, our 20+ Christian Religious Life groups host numerous services and events each week. Duke supports and funds many of these groups, which far outnumber all other faith-based student groups combined.

12. While many Christian groups are highly accessible, often with offices in the Chapel, other groups are pushed to the periphery of campus. The Center for Muslim Life, for example, is located on the edge of Central Campus.

13. As a Christian, if I am not satisfied by the worship opportunities on campus, there are over 225 churches in Durham, many of which are situated within walking distance of campus.

14. While there is only one Muslim Imam at the university, there are at least 50 Christian ministers employed by the Chapel, the Divinity School, and independent Christian student groups.

15. Although Duke is officially a non-sectarian institution, 24 out of 36 university trustees are selected by local conferences of the United Methodist Church.

16. The University’s bylaws outline the school’s intention to “assert a faith in the eternal union of knowledge and religion set forth in the teachings and character of Jesus Christ.”

17. As a Christian, I can be assured that I will have time off for my important religious holidays without having to make any special request, because the University’s academic calendar is oriented around my faith tradition.

18. Finals week does not interfere with a Christian worship schedule – there is a break from finals before noon on Sunday morning.

19. During the holiday season, there are Christmas trees erected in a variety of buildings around campus.

20. Each spring, Christian groups are permitted to host tenting, service events and amplified speakers on the main quad as part of the J-Ville Social Justice initiative.

21. It is not rare to hear Gospel music playing while eating lunch in Marketplace.

22. Many so-called secular music groups on campus perform predominately Christian music. Some, such as the Chorale, also include Bible readings as part of their concert programs.

23. It is considered perfectly normal for Christian groups to aggressively proselytize to incoming students during orientation week.

24. When extremist members of my religion commit heinous acts of violence, and they do, my peers and community members don’t immediately assume that I am supportive of those acts.

25. Christians can use the Chapel sanctuary and bell tower for a variety of public purposes, without receiving death threats. As we learned last week, our Muslim brothers and sisters are not afforded that same liberty.

Katie Becker is a Trinity Sophomore. Her column runs every other Wednesday.


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