November 17, 2019

CHANG | Make Cornell More Inclusive for Christians

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Here’s the lowdown: I’m a Christian, and I think Cornell should be more open to religion — specifically Christianity.

Although I’d grown up going to church (sort of — because my dad was never interested), it wasn’t until my senior year in high school that I began to develop my personal faith. In the midst of college applications and a long list of rejections, I felt a deep-seated inadequacy that I couldn’t solve by myself. Through a series of conversations with Christian friends that I’d had since elementary school and a long period of soul-searching and Bible-reading, I realized that my faith was something that was incredibly important to me.

More importantly, I realized I wanted to remain a Christian in college. This was a task that was easier said than done. After all, college is filled with plenty of temptations that contradict mainstream Christian lifestyles. Parties, frat culture, hookup culture and the need for stress relief are commonplace. I can’t say that I’ve entirely strayed away from these integral elements of Cornell — I’ve attended my fair share of parties. But I’ve also found community and belonging in my church life and on-campus fellowship. In college, Christianity became the guiding force behind my decisions and way of life.

Many Americans grow up in Christian homes — or at least households that attend church on Christmas and Easter — but by the time we hit college, the majority drift away from religion because we never developed personal beliefs. Once we were outside of our parents’ oppressive umbrellas, we just left and never looked back. That’s fine and all, but Cornell students should have the right to freely attend religious services and practice their religion without denigrating jokes and comments.

The comments from students and policies from the administration haven’t always made being a Christian at Cornell easy. It’s no secret that many students at Cornell are atheist or agnostic, as is the case at many elite universities. Because of that, comments that deride religion are commonplace. I’ve often heard these questions directed at Christians or Christianity. Some of the common ones revolve around the wool that’s apparently over the eyes of the religious: “Why would they be so stupid to believe that?” Maybe: “Wow, I can’t believe that they would spend their Friday nights praying instead of partying.” Possibly the worst: “They’re so Christian — like, they talked about it all the time.” These comments hurt deeply, and imply that Christians, or even all religious people, aren’t truly welcome.

I get it. Christians are different. We often stick to ourselves, believe in a supernatural and omniscient God and typically go against the grain of college student life. Christianity also has a violent and complicated history that involves the Crusades, the Westboro Baptist Church, child molestation and serious issues involving homophobia and racism. Some of these problems should be thought about much harder by Christians; some are the root of theological and academic divisions.

For the most part, though, Christians at Cornell aren’t in-your-face. We don’t want gay people to undergo conversion therapy. We aren’t in friendships with people of different religious backgrounds just to evangelize. We often don’t tell people about our religion or skirt around questions when we’re asked, because we’ve had negative experiences with sharing our testimony of how we came to believe what we believe. Many late-night discussions have centered around how we can present our groups, our churches and even our religion to accurately reflect the big-tent philosophy of what we believe. We just have a different system of beliefs and guiding values, and we want to have the opportunity to practice our identity in Christ on campus.

The administration doesn’t encourage religion, either. There’s an implicit enlightened liberal image that’s part and parcel of the Cornell vibe, and religion isn’t part of that image. Funding for religious groups is often limited, and opportunities to advertise faith-affiliated events are often lacking. For example, different fellowships and on-campus groups weren’t allowed to quarter-card on North Campus during O-Week. The University Registrar began assigning final exams on Sunday morning in fall of 2018 with unreasonable requirements for religion-based exemptions. The deadline for a religious exemption for a makeup exam was Aug. 31. This semester, it was on Sept. 6 — before the add/drop period ended. Students wouldn’t have known their finals schedules or whether they needed to apply for the religious exemption. Seeking religious accommodations should be easier.

I’m not condemning the campus as a place that is entirely intolerant of religion: Various pockets and groups have made Cornell their home. But students and administrations should reconsider their perspective on religion. We should seek to create an atmosphere that is tolerant of all religions. Instead of jeering or ignoring someone who is quarter-carding for or spreading the word about their religious group, stop by. Different religious groups take turns opening themselves to questioning on Ho Plaza. Ask questions (yes, hard ones!) about what they believe and why they believe it. You’ll find that we are more than happy to answer.

Darren Chang is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at dchang@cornellsun.com. Swamp Snorkeling runs every other Monday this semester.