To strive for diversity can be reductive

Margaux Cameron

First of all, saying that colleges shouldn’t be concerned with religious diversity isn’t the same thing as saying that religious diversity is pointless. No matter where you attend school, it’s crucial that you feel both accepted by your community and challenged (within a comfortable level) by people with different beliefs. College plays a clichéd yet crucial role in developing personalities from high-schoolers to adults, and religion is definitely a part of that. However, for a college to actively pursue religious diversity among its students is unnecessary and even, perhaps, impossible.

On its most basic level, religion isn’t easily evaluated because, frankly, it’s neither visible nor tangible. The recent hype for advertising racial diversity everywhere from cosmetic commercials to college guidebooks hasn’t caught on for religious diversity, for the simple fact that beliefs usually aren’t evident in photographs. Unless you choose to share it, your religion is a complete secret from those around you.

Because of this, religion is deeply personal. Unlike the color of your skin, you have control over the impact religion has on your life. The power of the link between religion and identity is a private decision. Some people identify themselves very strongly with their chosen beliefs; others see religion as separate from their day-to-day lives and interactions with others. Either option is viable.

Even though most religions have core beliefs, and many are organized around an institution, people’s beliefs are still individualized. Ask five people of the same religion to interpret a passage in their holy text, and I guarantee they will each have a unique perspective. Pull ten people of the same religion out of their place of worship, and they will each explain their beliefs differently. A system of beliefs is something so complex, so nuanced, that to strive for religious diversity in a community is almost redundant.

In its practicality, a college’s pursuit of religious diversity is flawed. For the very reasons why religion is both personal and individualized, many people resent being forced to confine their beliefs to a single term. If you’ve looked at the “Basic” information on any Facebook profile lately, you’ll notice that with the exception of “Hometown,” “Religious Views” is the only category that is entered free-form –– i.e., without a pull-down menu. Sex, birthday, political views: these can all be nicely pigeonholed into clearly defined terms, but religion? Impossible. So for a board of admissions to ask prospective students to neatly and concisely state their religious preferences for the purpose of fostering diversity is asking a little too much –– or not enough.

The quest for racial diversity in U.S. colleges and universities has already spurred controversy because when separate admissions guidelines are established to promote ethnic diversity, students with higher grades and test scores may be rejected during the admissions process. Religious preference, unlike race or ethnicity, is difficult if not impossible to prove. If the same process is applied to religious diversity, high school seniors, finding themselves in an ever more competitive pool of applicants, could be tempted to misrepresent themselves in an attempt to align with underrepresented groups on campus. Sad, but certainly possible.

In addition, even if you enter college fixed firmly with a set of beliefs, there’s no guarantee that you won’t completely reverse your perspective during your four years. Again, college is a period of intense personal development –– arguably the most important in determining who you are as a person. It’s a time for questioning, for analyzing, and for evaluating, all practices which might be constrained by pressure to identify with a particular belief.

Ultimately, no one should be asked to identify with a certain religion in order to guarantee a wide range of belief systems. Students will be exposed to people who see the world differently than they do, with or without the college’s efforts. For a college to actively concern themselves with cultivating religious diversity is only perpetuating the theory that who a person is can be easily defined, easily evaluated. I’d certainly like to believe that it’s more than that.