This week’s reflective journal focuses on engaging religious minority students. From my experience, one of the key components of offering a campus climate that is supportive of religious minorities is to offer a private space for prayer. We have a “prayer room” at our main campus through our Student Association, and this room has been well-received by this constituency. Religion in higher education is frightening for some. Clark (2003) and Jablonski (2001), state that, “most administrators and faculty are hesitant in engaging students’ religious beliefs for fear of alienating students or impinging on students constitutional rights” (as cited in Quaye & Harper, 2015). The chapter notes that some feel religion and spirituality are private matters, but I feel it is more than that. Through my experiences, there seems to be a general lack of understanding of different religions from higher education administrators. This lack of understanding leads to a lack of confidence when engaging this constituency. As higher education administrators, we need to do a better job of understanding the core values of the major religions, and Table 11.3 in chapter 11 provides a good list of the estimated number of people who are self-identified within various religious groups.
Christian privilege is a key learning point for me this week. I am in agreement with the chapter in saying that there are conscious and subconscious advantages afforded to members of the Christian faith. An academic calendar, for example, is the best example with statutory holidays such as Christmas and Good Friday where classes do not take place to observe these Christian holidays. I would also agree that Christians are unlikely to perceive a college environment to be hostile towards their faith, and that non-Christians must negotiate conflicts between their studies and their spiritual practices. For non-Christian students having faith-based clubs are important to provide students of similar faith to both build relationships and interact with one another. I am in full agreement that without support and understanding from those who do not share similar beliefs, religious minority students will struggle. This is why providing them a platform to meet one another is critical to help with support and understanding.
Another key learning point is the challenges that religious minorities face in higher education, and specifically the psychological barriers they can encounter. I look at the treatment Muslim students faced post-911, and the societal influences on college campuses. I could only imagine the stress on Muslim students during this difficult period of time. Mayhew and Bryant’s (2013) statement regarding student perceptions can create or undermine opportunities for curricular and co-curricular engagement is a very accurate statement. How students perceive a specific religion has a major influence on students of that particular religious faith. In looking at Muslim students, if perceptions or suspicions exist that Muslim students are involved in terrorism, how uncomfortable and unsettling would that make a student feel? Even President Trump’s travel ban would have negative implications for Muslim students on campus, which would only add to their stress by not being able to travel home during holidays or semester breaks and seeing their families. These are examples of how an external factor can impact campus climate.
Another key learning point is what higher education administrators can do to engage religious minority students. A key takeaway is the need for the institution to support different religious groups by providing them a formal mechanism for organization into religious denominations of expression (Quaye & Harper, 2015). This is an important education piece that I feel is currently missing at our institution. Although there are various religious clubs, there is not specific information available to the campus employees on what clubs are available, and how to create a club. As mentioned in this week’s presentation notes, creation of space for religious engagement contributes to persistence by this constituency. This would be valuable information in providing information and support to students. As mentioned in previous journals, Vancouver, Canada is a multicultural city with many students enrolled from different religions.
Of all the constituencies covered in this course, I feel this is the one that is talked about the least, but they are just as important as any of the others. The concept of sponsorship of themed housing is an interesting one. We had discussed this briefly during my time as residence manager, but the problem at our institution is our residence only has 330 beds, and therefore did not have the ample population to be able to proceed with this initiative. Mentorship is another important point that I’ve learned from this week’s course materials. Have religious minority mentors can assist those who are struggling with the conflict of their religion on a campus environment. This goes above and beyond what I had originally envisioned in support to this constituency. I have always heard of the importance of a safe space to perform prayer, but I now better understand the importance of mentorship. How important is spirituality in a college campus setting? According to Astin and Astin (2003), three-fourths of students as part of their research stated they are “searching for meaning/purpose in life”, and that they’ve had these discussions with friends. To me, this speaks loudly on the importance of incorporating spirituality into the programmatic offerings to students.
This week's picture is from a suburb of Vancouver, which features four temples from different religions that are on the same street. This street is referred to as "Highway to Heaven" given its heavy religious presence.