HUGHES: ‘Being the difference’ and feeling welcome as a nonreligious student
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I wasn’t always a skeptic. There was a time when I would spend Sunday mornings hip-to-hip with my grandma on a wooden church pew. I’ve been to “Bible camp.” I’ve sang in church choir. But at some point the tacit understanding I had with religion evaporated, and I’ve been sleeping in on Sunday mornings ever since.
Last week I was walking through the second floor of the AMU when two men called to me from a table decorated with baked goods and religious ideology. If not for the cookies, I would have turned my head and pretended not to hear them.
Most of my mornings are slow and unremarkable. I clutch a coffee to my chest and suffer through. I’m rarely in the mood for small talk or polite conversation. Despite this, I walked toward their table and prepared for the worst.
They introduced themselves as Christian pastors and offered me my choice of baked goods. The only catch was that I had to ask God a question. I don’t believe in God and so had no questions for him, but I’d already taken a cookie and felt obligated to provide these men with a sincere response. I hesitated, and then decided to take the candid approach and be honest with these people. They offered to pray for me.
This was such a subtle thing, but it affected me. I’ve not been moved to explore my faith or to find God. It’s not that kind of story. But I did feel accepted, appropriate. I felt that of all the times I’ve extolled Marquette, this was the best anecdote to illustrate my affection.
I was nervous, coming to a Catholic Jesuit university. Marquette’s “Guiding Values” are excellence, faith and service. At first, I thought this meant I could never really belong here. I had images of nuns and morning prayers, Christian Rock and holding hands.
It wasn’t that I opposed religion or that I was afraid of it, I just didn’t want to be pushed toward it. To my surprise, I’ve never felt that push. I never felt pressure to explore ideas I was uncomfortable with and I never felt out of place for it.
We talk a lot about being the difference and cura personalis, but I’m never exactly sure what these words look like applied to real life. But in these quiet, seemingly insignificant moments, I feel it. I feel the energy and the drive this university inspires in people, and I feel like a welcomed part of it. My faith, or lack thereof, has never limited my ability to connect as a member of the Marquette community.
There are things about myself that sometimes make me feel like an outsider here: my rural hometown, my low income family and my indifference toward athletics. But I’ve never felt misaligned by value. I think most students can echo that idea.
So when we hear news that the Muslim prayer space on campus was vandalized, or when the lobbying efforts of a former faculty member push an employee who promoted diversity on campus to leave the university, we should ask ourselves what values were guiding them. Certainly not Marquette values and certainly not Jesuit values.
There is this unfortunate idea that “Marquette” is synonymous with “white, affluent and Catholic.” Based on my experience, it’s really synonymous with “smart, compassionate, brave and empowered.”