Last Friday, Trinity first-year Victoria Priester penned an in The Chronicle in which she opened up about her personal experience as a practicing Christian at Duke. In particular, she described the somewhat negative stereotypes associated with being a Christian student at an elite university where religion can often be thought of as a backwards relic from a bygone age of past prejudices. As students of this University, dedicated to creating a safe, diverse space for every member of the Duke community, it is crucial that we examine religion and its place here on campus.
As a result of its roots as Methodist academic institution, Duke maintains a long-standing historical relationship with the United Methodist Church, spanning over 150 years. However, the University has grown beyond its Methodist roots to truly become a global institution reflective of myriads of different faiths. Simply put, reflecting the great diversity of the student body, Duke is representative of a petri dish of different religions; Judaism, Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity are just some of the major beliefs held by the students. However, like most elite universities, Duke maintains a mostly secular sentiment in its undergraduate liberal art education; gone are the days of mandatory chapel attendance that used to accompany a Trinity College education.
Nonetheless, even at Duke University, students clearly face issues when practicing their faith in a university environment. Negative stereotypes surrounding Islam and Hinduism continue to affect those who wish to practice their faith among a student body largely uninformed on the theological tenets of non-Western religions. Moreover, students in the past have brought up religious concerns, whether that be the Divinity School’s of African American and LBGTQ+ students, or conducting a hearing to review constitutional changes regarding senators with bad standing and preventing ideology-based discrimination. As we move forward, students should be reminded of their role in constructing a healthy environment that respects religion.
To be sure, students should respect their peers’ religion and make a concerted effort to correct someone who uses inaccurate language to describe a belief system. This actively prevents stereotypes from pervading within the campus community. Furthermore, students should devote a considerable amount of time to learning a belief system otherwise they risk coming across as ignorant and disrespectful. A byproduct of a Duke education is that students have the liberty to avoid or start conversations that may challenge the beliefs of whoever is in question. That being said, there is always value in confronting topics that have the potential to affect your worldview and no student should shy away from that.
Though this University possesses a deep religious history, in the present it is a melting pot of different backgrounds and ideologies. At Duke especially, an institution that prides itself on its immense diversity, we should strive to understand and respect the religions of each of our respective peers. Whether a student is religious or secular, the Duke experience should be one in which every student feels comfortable practicing their system of belief proudly.
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