November 21, 2019

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Re: ‘Make Cornell More Inclusive for Christians’

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To the Editor:

I want to start by emphasizing that this is no way an attack on Christianity or the author of the op-ed.

This is a response to reflect on religious privilege on campus and to continue the conversation of religious acceptance and accommodation at Cornell.

If you can write an op-ed about your religious beliefs and not fear for your safety on campus after it’s published, you are experiencing religious privilege.

If you can write an op-ed about your religion and not be stereotyped as the voice for your entire religion by the public, you are experiencing religious privilege.

If you can attend Cornell University and never have your religion be the target of a hate crime, you are experiencing religious privilege.

To be a Christian at Cornell is to experience religious privilege.

Christianity is so prevalent in our society that capitalism milks it for all it is worth: $465 billion each holiday season. Let’s be real — it’s not December; it’s Christmas time, regardless of whether you are Christian or not.

Want to watch a holiday movie? Try to find a Hanukkah film, I’ll wait. Want to listen to Hanukkah music? Let’s all sing along to that one Adam Sandler song.

For a Christian, religious privilege is everywhere, especially this time of year.

As a member of a persecuted people, I find the author’s plea to make Cornell a more accepting and “open” space for Christianity a bit tunnel-visioned. If a religious majority feels closed off, imagine how closed off religious minorities feel.

Take whatever it feels like to be Christian and multiply it by any reasonable number of your choice, and you will get a sense of what feels like to be a religious minority in a world that was built for and by a Christian plurality.

You need not look any further than our holiday schedule here, and across our country, to know that school vacations are strategically aligned for the Christian majority. The calendar is designed so that Christians can celebrate their holidays free of work and at home with family.

That opportunity is a privilege.

Ask almost any Jewish student, and they will tell you they have to choose between missing iClicker attendance questions or observing Yom Kippur, the highest holy day in the Jewish calendar.

Lucky are the few Jews who can drive home in the middle of the week and miss classes to spend the Jewish holidays with their family. Good luck writing those papers while fasting.

Jews, who admittedly have a disproportionately large presence at Cornell (19% according to compared to the general American population, do not get out of Cornell’s academic commitments for any Jewish Holiday. Not Rosh Hashanah, not Yom Kippur, not Hanukkah and not Passover (let alone the many other ones you aren’t familiar with; Sukkot who?).

With all of this being said, I do not question the reality of feeling discomfort from offensive comments based on one’s Christian beliefs. No one should be subject to offensive comments based on who they are and what they do, or do not, believe.

However, as a Jewish woman, a member of a religious minority making up only about 1% of the U.S. population, I can confirm that those in religious minorities not only feel discomfort, but also feel direct attacks in the form of intimidation, discrimination and persecution for our beliefs.

Religious freedoms are a sensitive and very real topic for religious minorities.

I remember when border-line anti-Semitic, and definitely anti-Zionist, rhetoric began to appear last spring around the BDS movement vote in the Student Assembly. I remember in 2018 three swastikas were found around Cornell’s campus within the span of nine days. I remember in 2017 several posters were found on campus proclaiming “just say no to Jewish lies” and “join the white gang.” Anti-Semitism happens here; it happens everywhere.

It is no secret that both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are on the rise on campus and around the world.

There is also the separation of church (geez, even the language perpetuates Christian dominance) and state (or institution). It is not Cornell’s place to encourage religion and Christianity on campus. Instead, the religious role of the institution is to protect all religious freedoms.

I understand how Christians may feel, but I think people, in general, are pretty tolerant of Christianity. Non-Christians may “jeer” in avoidance of someone quarter-carding, but people on their way to class hardly have time to respond to emails, let alone stop and chat about someone else’s religion.

If you think Christianity has it hard, I press you to think critically both about how the system treats your friends who are in a religious minority and about the oppressive history religious minorities have endured. And, next time, maybe include us in your vision for a more accommodating religious future.

After all, religious groups could work together at Cornell to seek change for exam and class accommodations that benefit everyone, and not just those with the majority voice.

Sophie Slutsky ’20