(An editorial I wrote for the JHU Newsletter).
For many young people, going to college inspires a sense of independence and self-discovery. Finally freed from parental control and oversight, students feel compelled to strike out on their own, forge their own identities and form their own opinions. Inherent in this feeling is a growing skepticism of the customs they’ve practiced since they were young and a growing willingness to challenge what their parents have always told them to be true. Nowhere is this more evident than in the tendency for college students to drift away from religion.
Across the country, religious service attendance rates at colleges and universities are decidedly lower than in the population at large, and many students feel indifferent to the subject in general. This trend has only increased in recent years, and Hopkins is no exception; religious groups on campus are generally tolerated but often ignored. Many students who do have faith choose to keep it to themselves, resulting in a void of public discourse on the issue. This week’s news feature on page A4 describes the religious scene on campus in greater detail.
Of course, religion is a deeply personal matter, and the Editorial Board cannot opine on whether these trends are good or bad. We do, however, recognize the sense of community that religious outreach groups can provide and remind students seeking such a support network that Hopkins offers a variety of opportunities for religious involvement on campus. Freshmen coming from religiously vibrant homes may be taken aback by how little the subject is discussed among the student body, and it is important that these students feel welcome to practice their faith if they choose.
Furthermore, the Board encourages students of all viewpoints to feel more comfortable discussing religion on campus. Just as political discourse is furthered by open and robust conversation, we suspect that lifting this unofficial taboo would enhance students’ understanding of alternate religious perspectives. The Hopkins admissions office tries hard to create a diverse campus environment, welcoming students from a wide variety of racial, cultural and ideological backgrounds. They do this because immersion in unfamiliar cultures and customs is a critical component of the undergraduate experience, one which fosters tolerance and intercultural understanding. The vast array of religious viewpoints on campus is just another intriguing element of this diversity, and exploring these differences teaches us not only about others, but about ourselves. It’d be a shame to waste that opportunity.