When many students leave home to come to college, they bring luggage and mementos. The four students The Hatchet spoke with also brought their faith, and found that combining religion and college poses challenges. Without family and cultural voices always in their ears, their transition to college was also a transition to practicing their religion on their own.
A Progressive View
Freshman Ravjot Bhasin grew up in a religiously strict Sikh household in New York. His grandparents – immigrants from India – “played a huge role” in Bhasin’s religious upbringing, he said. In contrast, his parents, who are American-born, were more lenient in the social aspects of Sikhism.
Religion at GW
This is the third and final article in a series about religion at GW, as seen through the eyes of the devout. The series follows four students of four different faiths in an effort to look into their life on campus and how religion plays a role in their GW experience.
Previously, the four students discussed their beliefs, their religious developments and the act of worshipping in college. This week, the students talk about fusing college life with religious life.
“My parents were always more understanding of my choices and they let me go to parties,” Bhasin said.
In traditional Sikhism, drugs, alcohol and premarital sex are forbidden, but for some Sikhs drinking alcohol is now accepted. Bhasin said his views on Sikhism follow the more progressive line.
“I feel that religiously, sex before marriage is wrong, but I feel that the notion of it culturally has changed,” he added.
Bhasin had a long-term relationship in high school, a relationship that his parents approved of, even after it turned serious.
“I thought there was nothing wrong with it. I felt like being in a relationship was okay in the society I grew up [in],” Bhasin said.
At GW, he is against the seemingly causal relationships other freshmen develop. He said he does not judge people for their weekend hook-ups but is only willing to become physical with someone he loves.
Our bodies are temples
Following what Catholic teachings say about drinking, senior Julie DeMareo said she does not believe in “drinking to get drunk.”
“I have only been drunk once. It was unintentional and it was probably because I didn’t know my limits early on,” DeMareo said. “I believe your body is a temple and we are made in the image of God, so why would you get drunk?”
DeMareo said she wants to be a model for what Catholicism teaches, including respecting the body and mind.
“I have a more simple life so I can be more open to what God wants for me and so I can be respectful of the community and be involved.”
DeMareo is a house proctor and said while she does not promote Catholicism with her residents, she models herself so she can teach her residents by example.
“We want to make sure they are safe and making good choices,” she said. “If my residents ask me about what I do on the weekends, I will tell them the truth about how I go out to bars with friends to dance or hang out. But I’m not interested in random hook-ups, drinking excessively or anything else that would misrepresent my faith, because as a Catholic I am a testament to everyone around me about what our church stands for.”
Setting her limit
Junior Habiba Belguedj enjoys dancing and going out with her friends, but as a devoted Muslim, she is sometimes forced to “set a limit” with men.
“In college, people generally become more casual with dating, so it’s hard to just hang out with a guy and then have to explain yourself if they try moving too fast,” Belguedj said.
While she still likes attending parties, Belguedj avoids drinking and said she makes her decisions based on Islamic traditions. This has sometimes made her feel like “the mom” when out with her friends, she said.
“I have a passion for dancing and it is so great finding a respectable guy that can actually dance,” she said. “But I don’t even consider that time being spent with them as dating. It’s always ended up a friendship.”
When meeting Muslim men, Belguedj is often forced to take a firm stance on her beliefs.
“I have met some Muslim men who respect my traditions and some who would rather I ‘leave my traditions at home.’ I would expect them to understand as Muslim men, but realistically some are just woven into the traditions of American lifestyle which causes the same limit to be set as with an American man,” she said.
Belguedj does not believe in casual dating, as choosing a “lifetime partner” involves “prayer, careful investigation and family involvement,” she said.
Finding her place
While she was in Israel last year, senior Ariel Scheer adopted Orthodox Jewish traditions like wearing only skirts and observing Shabbat. When she came back to GW, she found it very challenging to keep up with those laws.
“People here started to notice me wearing only skirts and [keeping] my shoulders covered. I always had to explain my choices after the trip,” she said. “It’s hard here because you’re very limited to what you can do unless you’re part of a community where everyone else is doing that, too.”
Scheer said she found it difficult to practice Shabbat – a Jewish practice that forbids her from doing work on God’s day of rest.
“It was really hard not using electricity, especially with the GWorld system,’ Scheer said. “I couldn’t take the Metro, or do any work either. It made me question why I was doing it and that was definitely hard.”
After attempting to keep Shabbat, wear only skirts and keep her shoulders covered for a semester, Scheer began to interpret the laws in a more personal way.
“I have gone back to where I was before the trip. I will now usually do something on Friday nights, where I used to have to stay back when my friends went out,” she said. “Right now it isn’t what I practice, mostly because I go to a secular university and within the world I live in, it’s just not practical or easy.”