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Embrace - don't disgrace - religious diversity

By Molly Sender
On May 1, 2012

  • Sophomore Meg Crowley hits during the NCAC championship match against Oberlin Saturday. Crowley won both her singles and doubles competitions, helping the team advance to a 17-6 win and a NCAC championship. Photo courtesy of Richard Walsh

Coming from a small, conservative town, I have long understood that being Jewish meant being different. For many in my hometown, I was the only Jewish person they had met, so I was the "blueprint" for my peers as their only example of a Jew.
I admit, I was hoping to go to college and leave that behind me, but after three years at DePauw, it upsets me to admit that the ignorance surrounding not only Judaism, but also all minority religions, is astounding. I thought by attending a liberal arts school that most of my peers would have at least a working knowledge of the basics of religions outside of their own, but I have been let down. 
I have heard distasteful jokes and have been quoted false facts.  I have been the subject of Jewish jokes and have heard the stories of others in minority religions having to deal with the same experiences, and can only conclude that people are usually not trying to be hurtful. Rather, they are simply ignorant. 
Yet, ignorance is a choice.  There is an ethical responsibility that we, as a liberal arts institution owe to our students.  According to DePauw's mission statement, the University means to "provide a diverse learning and living community" to its students.  While I believe DePauw has tried to make the campus more diverse, there seems to be little to no effort to actually talk about diversity, specifically diversity of religion. 
Religious diversity means more than merely bringing religious minorities to campus - we need to engage in discussion of differences and foster more understanding. True, this is an admittedly daunting task. 
Religion is a personal and divisive topic, one that often makes us uncomfortable - but things worth talking about usually require us to get out of our comfort zones.  If a small, nurturing campus like DePauw is not able to tackle the issues surrounding difference of religion, how can we expect larger, more global groups to discuss the same issues?
My hope is that we can provide students an outlet to talk openly about religious differences in an ethical and understanding environment. The Center for Spiritual Life is vibrant, but as of now underutilized. There is an ethical responsibility to make students personally accountable for their education, and part of that education is the ability to relate to and respect differences in others. 
If DePauw wants to truly "teaches its students values and habits of mind which serve them throughout their lives as each of them makes a positive difference as an active citizen of the world," as their mission states, we must not turn a blind eye to the subtle discrimination and ignorance that plagues our campus. 
Toleration of ignorance is unethical and can only lead to a divided and impermeable atmosphere for discussion on campus.  The sooner we accept that religious ignorance exists, the sooner we can act to change it and make DePauw University a more tolerant, accepting, and educated campus.

- Sender is a senior from Normal, Ill., majoring in music business.

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