Colleges all across the globe, but especially in the United States, provide places for intellectuals and academics to come together and find common ground in the process of receiving a higher education. As a rule, they do not discriminate against people of certain ethnicities, political stance or religion. In an ideal world, campuses should act as a safe place for everyone to express their culture and identity without having to worry about any threats. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. As a Roman Catholic from a mostly Christian city, I interviewed students and found that the University of Kentucky is indeed a safe place for people of all religions to come and learn. At least, it appears that way.
What is the role of religion at UK?
Islam on Campus
I notice the eyes of fellow students who stare when an Islamic girl walks by, wearing a hijab. It still happens, I see it every day when I walk on campus. But slowly, it’s getting better. The atmosphere towards Muslims on campus does not feel tense or on edge at UK, but the university is not a microcosm of the nation. Anti-Islam attitudes and expressions have become rampant across the globe, which really makes me feel for the Islamic students on campus. Just like me, Muslim students attend school so they can earn their degree and build a career. I think most of the students at UK realize that. Just because people are dressed differently, it does not make them any less deserving of an education.
My junior year of college I had a class with with an Islamic girl named Fatima Siddiqi. I sat next to her most days, and eventually we had a conversation about religion. “UK has overall been a very accepting place,” Siddiqi said. “I do often get a lot of stares and feel out of place when wearing my garb, but I’ve gotten used to it.” This response comforted me some, but made me feel that the world is just not up to code in terms of acceptance. While UK may provide a safe environment for Muslim students, it still does not necessarily go far out of its way to make them feel at home.
Christianity on Campus
I began to wonder about how much faith has increased or decreased on UK’s campus in the recent years. “[Christian Student Fellowship, or CSF] have a worship night at their building on campus on Thursdays, and they also organize the Bible study that I am a part of,” said senior Rachel Kendig said. She finds joy in talking about her faith, as well as getting involved in CSF. “My faith is very important to me. I try to make it the foundation of everything I do and every relationship I have.”
I posed the question of whether our generation has a higher or lower frequency of churchgoers. Rachel Kendig answered, “I would tend to say less frequently. I think today’s generation tends to look for things other than faith to fulfill them, because with material and technological advances we have become a society of instant gratification, which faith is often not.” It’s evidenced every day when you see children immediately getting what they want after they have a tantrum. Faith is not like the parent giving in to the spoiled child. It just cannot satisfy that quickly and easily. However, while a large percentage of Christian UK students do not attend weekly mass, the Christian faith remains alive and present on campus.
Judaism on Campus
I also wanted to find out about the Jewish faith on UK’s campus. I spoke to Susie MaGill, the leader of the youth group at the synagogue, Temple Adath Israel. She said they have a large number of about 40 Jewish UK students that regularly attend services. MaGill also said, “The Jewish faith is stronger than ever, especially in Kentucky. Like Christianity and other religions, it has spread to places all around the world.” I’ve got a strong feeling that the Jewish faith has a lot to teach the new world.
Even more so, I’ve found some cool classes in the English department on Jewish literature, such as English 370 “Literature Across Borders.” They go into depth about the history of the Jewish faith and the ways it influenced political and social institutions. Also, UK has a very involved Hillel club-the Jewish student club on campus. It seeks to bring students of the Jewish faith together to celebrate their beliefs and act as a support system. Students of the Jewish faith have the tools necessary to build upon their faith and receive an education at UK.
Religion clearly still plays a resounding role in a lot of students’ lives at the University of Kentucky. When properly guided, religion can serve as an outsource of expression and faith. It’s all about believing in something bigger than yourself, and admitting that we are very small, yet important. No matter what faith you belong to, or if you do not practice a faith and never intend to, UK still has an amazing number of opportunities. Some of those include meeting new people and sharing something in common with them, to explore yourself as an individual of love and compassion. Need I say more?