Religion? That's right. For many, religion is a basic consideration when it comes to choosing a college. "I'm a Christian, so I wanted to get a Christian education," says Dawne Visbeek, a junior at the Moody Bible Institute. "The teachers here take an issue and give a Christian point of view. So that helps me get a better understanding of my world and my faith."
Beliefnet hit the streets of L.A. to ask students: "How do you deal with religious diversity at college?" |
"It's not really an issue as long as no one minds that I'm not religious."
"I get harassed by a lot of people handing out papers--they chase you down. It's like, Christians attack everyone, and Jews attack people who look Jewish. I wish they'd at least choose different people for some variety."
"Our school is pretty diverse, so religious issues come up--but mostly in philosophy or religion class. Usually it's just a classroom debate, and that's fine."
"I don't know--I don't let it get to me. Some people have discussions, but they just don't make sense."
John Veit, a student at the University of Notre Dame, points out that religious schools require you to take courses you might not want: "The requirements here are the same as other schools," he warns, "but you also have to take two theology courses from the Judeo-Christian tradition." But at a religious school, you can also find classes that might not show up in your everyday state college course catalog. "I'm able to get the classes I want here," Visbeek shrugs. "At a secular college, I couldn't take biblical courses." At most schools, you won't get to study sacred texts so exclusively, she says: "I wanted to get a biblical perspective--I've already gotten the other perspective."
How am I with rules? While all colleges have rules, religious colleges have rules--some prohibit dancing, card playing, even thong underwear. Some students claim that the social etiquette of a religious college keeps them straight. Veit of Notre Dame laughs: "It's not like they force religion here, but the atmosphere is traditional. You can't have the opposite sex over on weeknights or weekends. It's funny: They're really lax about drinking, but there's zero tolerance for drugs." If you have trouble sticking to your guns, those rules can power up your resolve. On the other hand, some folks say that a "do what you want" atmosphere helps them keep their practice strong. Helfand, for example, says the freedom of Northwestern helps him exercise his faith more creatively. "We try to make Hillel activities fun--sometimes we'll have a 'Murder Mystery Shabbat Dinner,' and once we had a romance-theme Shabbat for couples. We go to Cubs games, bowling, miniature golfing...and we get great speakers, like Hedda Nussbaum and MTV's Dr. Drew."
Do I want an education outside the classroom as well?
Hanging out exclusively with the like-minded can get dull. Veit, for one, frets that religious college doesn't offer much student diversity: "The atmosphere here [at Notre Dame] is traditional," he admits, "and the students are pretty homogenous. It gets to be not the greatest thing. But you're randomly assigned to your first-year dorm, so that helps." Visbeek agrees that the lack of diversity at religious schools is a drag. "When I'm at school," she explains, "I'm just around other Christians, so I don't have a chance to share with others."
Ultimately, college is a time for both your mind and your faith to change and grow. You have four years to work on your faith--to nurture it, test it, or experiment with it, whether you're at a religious school or a secular college.