Right outside of West Philadelphia is where I call home. I grew up in Upper Darby, PA which leads directly into West Philadelphia. I attended a public high school with over 4,000 students. I live in a three bedroom, one bathroom house with my parents and four siblings. I am a proud first generation college student attending the University of Scranton with a lot of help from scholarships and financial aid. I am involved and have made a lot of friends, but there is still a lack belonging that I feel at this university due to my home environment and family status.
Upper Darby is a unique, diverse place. We have trolley tracks, train stations, and buses, all a part of Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), throughout my town. Since attending the University of Scranton, I have learned that having bus stations and trolley tracks in your town is not something that my peers experience. I can see the Philadelphia skyline from my bedroom window. There are crowded roads, lots of small businesses, diverse foods, hundreds of different religious buildings and ethnic organizations.
As Pope Francis declares in his Encyclical on Climate Change and Equality, “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from our lives or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and this in constant interaction with it” (LS, par. 139). I feel as though this quote captures one of the reasons why I, and other students, feel a loss of belonging. The environment, ‘nature’ in this context, in which we grow up in and our interactions greatly affect how we see and interpret everything around us. When there is a majority who grew up in such a different environment, maybe one similar to this, it is hard to adjust and find what is comfortable. Students who did grow up in similar environments or with similar peers would have an easier time finding a sense of belonging and comfort as it is something they might be used to.
I was raised Catholic, attending CCD and attending church every Sunday. I was not looking for an affiliated university, but I no attend a university that aligns with my family’s religious beliefs. However, that is not the case for all students. Some of my friends are Jewish, so attending a Catholic university has been an adjustment for them. The requirement to take theology and implementation of Ignatian values into different curriculums proved difficult for some of my peers. A few of them had fears that the university would try to push Catholicism onto them. However, that goes against Catholic social teachings. Not pushing religion follows Solidarity, “the pursuit of justice and peace.” Catholicism, in principles and teachings, work to coexist among other denominations. I think the University of Scranton does a good job of teaching Catholicism with the highest respect and regard to the other religious traditions students may practice. It is understandable, though, how someone who is of a different religious affiliation, like Jewish, may struggle with belonging especially at times like Christmas when the entire university is covered in decorations.
"We were protected, cocooned, catered to. A lot of kids, I was coming to realize, had never in their lifetimes known anything different." Michelle Obama on her time at Princeton
I had the opportunity to meet Michelle Obama and hear her speak to thousands of college students, many first generation and from areas similar to her, and me! This clip is something that resonates me and the issue of belonging.
I am an Ally to the LGBTQ+ community. I have not faced the discrimination or disrespect those who are in the community have faced for decades. Unfortunately, this discrimination has occurred within the Catholic community. People have interpreted religion in ways that place people who identify as LGBTQ+ in a position of unworthiness. A presumption that a community you are a part of will not accept you feeds into a lack of belonging. The lack of belonging pushes a person to isolate or hide who they are. Ironically, this does not fit with Catholic social teachings, specifically Life and Dignity of the Human Person. This principle states that “believe that every person is precious, that people are more important than things, and that the measure of every institution is whether it threatens or enhances the life and dignity of the human person.” I do think the University of Scranton has a welcoming presence, one that may go against the above stereotype, though there is definitely steps that could be taken to make celebrate sexual orientation and gender identity further. It is very understandable how a member of the LGBTQ+ community could lack a sense of belonging here.
Created with images by Master Wen - "untitled image" • Berridge Photography - "Northeast Corridor" • Alex - "Septa Sign" • Ashwin Vaswani - "untitled image" • Marco Meyer - "untitled image" • Sharon McCutcheon - "untitled image"