During my time as a student at the University of New Mexico, I have been pleased to observe professors not only encouraging discussion of social liberties in a healthy and intellectual manner but also delicately sidestepping language or teachings that could threaten any student’s identity.
Students’ gender, sexuality and race are always respected when acknowledged, and when these topics are discussed objectively, they are addressed in a purely impartial and educational manner. Of course, I cannot speak for all students’ experiences, but thus far I have been nothing short of thrilled with classroom decorum in this respect.
Unfortunately, in my experience, one identically important and equivalently personal topic has not been extended the same courtesy: Religion (of course, I am referring to more than solely Christian religions.) Just last semester, I was assigned a project centered on personal growth and creative liberty, in which I needed to document in a journal a semester’s worth of my personal journey. When I incorporated religion — loosely — into the project by listing my goals for the semester (i.e. "I will pray more often," etc) on one page, my well-intentioned professor penciled in the comment "not healthy."
My friend had a similar experience: While discussing "The Freedom of the City," a play with religious themes by Brian Friel, a classmate accused her of blindly supporting bigotry by merely going to church.
These instances are trivial, certainly, and they do not inflict much more than a few moments of irritation. However, I continue to find that religion, despite being as integral an aspect of one’s personal experience as gender or other much more venerated topics, is openly slandered in classroom settings.
And I truly believe this occurs because not everyone understands what religions represents to an individual. For those who do not partake in a religion — and I mean any religion, not just Christian ones — they might easily reduce it to nothing more than a political stance they disagree with.
For me, my religion is where I derive my moral code. It is my source of comfort that there is a life besides this one, a meaning ascribed to my current existence as well as a wholly separate one beyond the events just past the end of my nose each day and a promise that I will re-encounter loved ones who have passed away.
Furthermore, a plethora of my fondest memories involving both family and friends are connected to a church setting. To gratuitously attack such a crucial component of my individuality (in an educational environment that I pay to partake in, no less) hurts. A lot.
Not to mention, if or when you experience one Catholic Mass (and I specify Catholicism purely because that is my religion), you have not seen them all. Similarly, when you meet one Catholic, you have not met them all. Placing a diverse group of individuals under one uniform umbrella perpetuates exactly what Catholics (and other religions) are militantly accused of doing.
Lest I offend the masses, I will offer a few disclaimers. First, I am not asking that I be allowed to announce my religious affiliation and incorporate it into every classroom discussion; this behavior would be unnecessary and limiting of ideas. Secondly, those who are not religious certainly derive just as strong of moral codes and sources of comfort elsewhere (and again, I would not dream of attacking their derivations, because it is cruel.) And lastly, I understand and support not praising religion in academic contexts when specifically discussing horrific actions done in the name of religious ideology.
Most importantly, the purpose of this column is not to argue that Christian students are oppressed at the University of New Mexico, since to my knowledge that simply is not true.
I merely ask — no, I beg — that classmates and professors alike not make assumptions about an individual’s personality based on whether or not he or she attends church. Is that not what our newly fostered progressivism is all about: Not placing generalizing labels on people without getting to know them first?
In summation: Despite your efforts to mentor me, I am perfectly healthy of mind. And my friend is not a bigot.