Discussions of religion on Skidmore’s campus have not been of interest to students. However, it would be in the best interest of all Skidmore students for us to engage in respectful discussions about religion more often. Skidmore’s community has a paradoxical approach to acceptance and liberality on campus. We want a diversity of students on campus, but without subsequent diversity of thought and opinions. Considering Skidmore’s vocality on acceptance and tolerance, we are surprisingly homogenous in our expectations of other people’s viewpoints and behaviors. We will gladly engage in a respectful debate regarding race issues, but our reaction to religion is either one of silence and avoidance, or of inflammatory and offensive remarks.
The assumption on campus regarding religion is that most individuals are not actively religious. Therefore, unless a student is noticeably and actively involved in religious life, the underlying belief is that they are part of a presumed majority of agnostic or atheist students. This becomes a circular way of thinking--because students assume that other students are not religious, they do not recognize Skidmore’s prominent religious life, and assume that religious gatherings at Skidmore are either nonexistent or unattended.
However, this is untrue. Skidmore has weekly Muslim prayer at Wilson Chapel on Fridays, holds weekly Shabbat services, has an active Chaplain on campus, and Skidmore’s clubs include Christian Fellowship Club--which hosts various weekly meetings, Hillel, Lift Every Voice Gospel Choir, and Newman Club--an organization for Catholic students at Skidmore. Skidmore does have a lively religious life on campus, it is just overlooked.
Skidmore also tends to exploit events that are rooted in religious heritage. For example, last year’s Holi event celebrating the Festival of Colors had somewhat disastrous results. Students showed up to the event with no concern for the Hindu values imbedded in Holi, its history, or its cultural resonance. When some students went up on stage (after administrative intervention) to share their knowledge about Holi, students on the green ran for the colors, turned on loud music, and drowned out the students on stage with their yelling. Rather than listening respectfully and gaining some understanding of what actions they were about to partake in, they demonstrated a flagrant disrespect to the Hindu culture and history, and a disregard for the religious significance of the event.
In order to combat the ignorance surrounding religion on campus, Skidmore should have more venues for learning and discussing religion. Think of how many courses at this school examine race, class and gender, and the way those identities can be tied into various disciplines. Conversely, few courses outside of the Religious Studies department examine or even acknowledge religion. As a community, we are all well-versed in how to engage in a critical discussion about race, class or gender, likely because of the attention spent on these subjects in Skidmore’s academic discourse. If we were as well-versed in religion, perhaps we could shed the biases and stigmas attached to religious students here, foster a more elevated level of respect for religious practices, and could avoid hate-fueled arguments like the intolerant threads regarding Christianity that occurred on Yik Yak over Easter weekend.
Religion is pertinent across all disciplines. It is relevant to our past, present and future, and it has a place on Skidmore’s campus--whether that goes unnoticed or not. To be educated in the complexities of religions, or to even have a broad understanding of religion is to be far more literate on the history of humanity, on vast amounts of world literature, and to be more well-attuned to current events. Furthermore, it would help us be more attuned to and appreciative of the cultural diversity on this campus. The celebration of Holi last year was an example of a missed opportunity to better educate students about Hinduism. If we had more events to discuss various religions, and if students actually respected the religious events that we do host, we could better appreciate the diversity of thought on this campus, not just strive for an ideal of diversity. And an overall better education on religion would help shape Skidmore students into more well-rounded, less ignorant, and far less polarized citizens.