Engaging Religious Minorities by Nicole baird

I found this week’s readings particularly interesting. I am aware of other religions and respect the doctrines on which those religions were built. However, I’ve never given the topic of religious minorities or Christian privilege much thought or consideration.

Considering that the concept of higher education was built or led by the Christian church nearly 400 years ago, it is interesting that the today’s colleges and universities still have remnants of religious influence. I realize this course is dedicated to higher education but the entire American educational system (and other industries) still operate under this influence, particularly as it pertains to the recognition of religious holidays. I don’t feel that Quaye and Harper (2015) truly emphasized this fact.

Bryant (as quoted in Quaye and Harper, 2015) states that “colleges and universities provide a microcosm of American society…and must endeavor to create campus climates that are welcoming to students from all faith traditions’ (p. 171). Subsequently, any shift to abandon the recognition of Christian holidays and meal offerings would most likely be met with resistance. Thus, the goal is probably not to abandon these long-standing practices but emphasize a campus culture that recognizes that Christian privilege exists and minority religions must be acknowledged. In the article, Understanding Christian Privilege: Managing the Tensions of Spiritual Plurality, the author further elaborates on the concept of Christian privilege. However, the author stresses learning about each other’s spiritual beliefs struggles, and celebrations.

This leaves higher education administrators to continue this tradition. But administrators must take measures to foster a campus environment that demonstrates respect, recognition and knowledge/cultural sharing of all religions reflected by faculty, staff and students. Therefore, to foster an all-inclusive campus culture, administrators must be vigilant to the needs of all stakeholders, regardless of their faiths. Most of the colleges I’ve attended or worked have given some latitude to students needing to observe specific religious holidays. However, I have observed specific faculty schedule exams on major Jewish holidays and seem annoyed when students request exceptions to the date. These are primarily brick and mortar classes. Quaye and Harper (2015) note the challenges that students may have in justifying such requests as some institutions require documentation from an accrediting body. This process should be seamless. Currently, where any holiday can be easily googled, why is it necessary to provide documentation? Why does a student need to validate their religious freedom? Do institutions require that students celebrate Christmas to justify being closed for “winter” break (formerly Christmas break)?

Ultimately, as with most of the special populations we’ve studied in this course, it is not only necessary to be open to learn about other cultures, beliefs and struggles but to also recognize when one is in a privileged category.

References

Quaye, J. & Harper, S. (2015). Student engagement in higher education: theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations. New York: Routledge.

Seifert, T. (2007, May/June). Understanding Christian Privilege: Managing the Tensions of Spiritual Plurality. Retrieved from https://learn.dcollege.net/bbcswebdav/pid-5012929-dt-content-rid-25167285_1/courses/21772.201625/Week%206/Seifert%20%282007%29.pdf

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