From Jillian O'Connor's "You're Nothing But a Pack of Cards!," Winter '94 From Jillian O'Connor's "You're Nothing But a Pack of Cards!," Winter '94 Whereas conflicts resulting from differences of skin color, gender, or sexual orientation attract immediate attention, subtler matters, such as the tacit condemnation of beliefs, escape most students completely unheeded. The word nonsectarian, which the University does not seem to fully comprehend, means to have no religious affiliations. Our University is officially a nonsectarian institution. This title means that our school is not and should not be partial to any religious traditions. Hmmm... Centrally locating two buildings sponsored by religious groups when innumerable other religions are represented in the student body seems just a little bit partial to me... If I were the member of a religion not represented by that favored dynamic duo, I might be pretty ticked off when I finally showed up to attend classes at my "nonsectarian" university and found out that a New Testament discussion is a hell of a lot more accessible from the Quad than my Calc recitation, or that Shabbat services are much closer than the library. That might make me feel a bit, uh, marginalized. It might also tell me that the University is ridiculously hypocritical. If my purely theoretical person then decided, perhaps, to take a sociology of religion course, it might indeed also be shocking that the only religions studied as examples are Judaism and Christianity. But, of course, my theoretical person would very probably be the only student to even notice a slight problem with this... Yes, Judaism and Christianity are the faiths claiming the most members of the University community, but that should not mean that this majority has the right to claim major footholds all around the campus. But this geographic centrality of major religious buildings isn't even considered a problem. While our status quo is busy...status quoing...no one even really notices or cares that one of the most popular mainstream on-campus hangouts (The Palladium) is actually in the Christian Association itself. Not to mention that the University employs a full-time tenured Episcopalian minister, the most Reverend Stanley Johnson, our University Chaplain, who claims to "fulfill his position in a very nonsectarian manner, as he has for the past thirty-three years." And we cut how many departments? Nor does anyone seem to notice the complete absurdity of Hillel and the Christian Association looming over the 36th Street Walk, nose-to-nose, shoulder-to-shoulder, breathing down each other's necks, looking like they might start a territorial brawl any minute. (These two buildings would never really fight, of course. I assure you that they are both buildings of the most peace-loving natures, but, hey, they're the ones staking out their claims in the absolute center of our campus!) Yet can we really expect our nice, conservative, and safe typical Penn students to notice? (We are talking about the same group that's here to get a GPA, not an education.) The really terrifying thing is, though, that we aren't even aware that we're doing it because of our phenomenal success in maintaining our contented little majority. In fact, many of us probably feel pretty damned entitled to the choicest real estate on campus, don't we? After all, most of us are either Christian or Jewish, so what's the big deal? Well, the big deal is that this university is an open place of learning, not an exclusive place of worship, and all students here should be able to see this. The glorification of two religions by the University is necessarily a belittlement of all others. Christianity and Judaism do occupy a large part of many students' lives, and I don't object to that in the least, but majority preference should never be favored by a university that seeks to maintain an objective image. I'm sure that, in keeping with this superficial "nonsectarian" resolve, the University is always gracious in accepting other religious associations on campus. It is doubtful, though, that any of these would ever be given a central location -- after all, two of the best sites on campus are already taken. Jillian O'Connor is a senior English major from Boston, Massachusetts. You're Nothing But a Pack of Cards! appears alternate Mondays.Comments powered by Disqus
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