By The Flying Dutchman
May 16th, 2017
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Our community thrives to be accepting, and has as any United World College put much effort in that regard. However, there is still persists a concern that religious members of our community are feeling uncomfortable. We asked several students who practices religion whether they felt the school has space for religion. Most students felt that there exists a general consensus that practicing a religion is not very “UWC”. Through our interviews it was clear that practicing students felt that there are prevailing judgmental attitudes towards religion in our school. Furthermore, that we fail to respect our religious community in the same way as we respect others such as the LGBTQ community. Often do we throw remarks or joke about religious practices. It became apparent that disrespecting holy figures has detrimental effects on some of our community members. One student expressed sadness on how “the names of holy figures are used in vain” and the responses involving “who cares” if the issue is brought up to those certain individuals. A student further expressed concern about how religion is perceived very negatively in classes. The student pointed out that he or she felt that Global Politics class discussions often perpetuated a consensus that religion is inherently bad.
The cause of this discomfort among our fellow students appears to be the belief that religion is linked to conservatism and non-progressive. Two –isms that United World College do not relate to the movement. Such a misconception about religion leads to generalizing or stereotyping about religious students. It is, of course, inevitable that we question some aspects of religion, as we do with all paradigms living in a community that encourages critical thinking, however it does not mean that we are to perceive practicing students’ arguments for their faith as ridiculous due to lack of scientific evidence. There is no value in making someone feel reduced to a person that is not capable of making their own decisions.
Furthermore, it is worth mentioning that it is indeed ignorant to assume that a person is religious to seek solace, find reassurance in life or because of judgement from the person’s cultural community. It has become apparent in our interviews that to overcome negative connotation that follows religion in our community, we need to embrace religious identity as what makes us diverse. Indeed, we should embrace and celebrate difference. Our founder, Kurt Hahn, was a Christian and a preacher. One of his many educational quotes was: ”Some things are just faith and do not require reason.” For some individuals, the spiritual dimension is essential to a fulfilling life. This is not as to suggest that everyone should have a religion, but encourage more acceptance and respect of different views and belief, and disregard practicing students. Hopefully students as well as staff members who tend to perpetuate stereotypes and generalizations or use condescending tones towards religious students will consider the implications of their words and actions. Learning based interactions could very well be a first step towards rethinking how we perceive religion as a community. In fact, such learning based interactions are actually already taking place in initiatives such as the Faith club. We as students could make an effort to make practicing students feel more welcome. Small gestures such as preparing breakfast for those who go to church do not go unnoticed. Our student council could also work towards promoting the idea of a prayer room within the residences. We hope this article will make us all reflect of the consequences of our actions, and give an insight to how our fellow religious students are experiencing their time here in our community.
If you would like to continue this debate, please do not hesitate to contact the author directly or The Flying Dutchman at TheFlyingDutchman@uwcmaastricht.nl
The Flying Dutchman team consists of UWC students aiming to reflect the news relevant to the people engaged with the UWC movement.