In February, Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum told Glenn Beck that colleges are “indoctrination mills.” He later told ABC’s “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos that, “62 percent of kids who go into college with some sort of faith commitment leave without it.”
Beyond the fact that he did not provide a source for his claim – I actually believe 62 percent is the number people always use when providing bogus statistics – his statement has since sparked a great deal of controversy and conversation throughout the mediasphere and higher education circles about the role that religion plays, and should play, on college campuses.
And I’m glad it has.
There’s no doubt that attending college – particularly one without a religious affiliation, like GW – exposes students to a multitude of approaches to faith, God, prayer, religion and even religiosity itself. Before attending college, most of us understood the conventional wisdom of our hometowns and practiced what we were raised to practice. We now interact differently with both our friends and our faith.
With some prominent religious holidays coming up in the next few days, and campus groups gearing up accordingly, I’ve been thinking a lot about where the GW campus falls when it comes to religion.
Faith – or lack thereof – is one of the principal means by which we perceive and relate to the world. It transcends a place of worship or an act of prayer; the scripture we subscribe to is, in many ways, a constant variable in our day-to-day calculus, framing our environment and – consciously or not – factoring into our decisions.
By adding exposure to other perspectives and subtracting the family pressure, college can change that equation.
But to say college is an atheism factory, or that we should remain as fastened to the faith we had at the start of college once we leave is an immature view of what should be a four-year stint with curiosity and questioning.
The strongest foundations have been weathered – and even a little shaken – numerous times. We know their strength when they are able to withstand difficult blows.
Our approach to religion should be no different. It’s more defendable if it’s tested; it becomes more our own when we’ve questioned it and come out on the other side in its favor.
Let college be that time to question.
Now, I understand Santorum’s concerns when it comes to students leaving college with different faiths, or without one entirely, when they came into college as pious individuals.
Interacting with members of other religions might influence our minds and persuade us to pick up a bit of a different faith’s wisdom. Taking a class in which we have to attend an unfamiliar service might make us momentarily uncomfortable, but then make us realize we share more in common than we thought.
But then again, this weekend, some of my friends are having a Passover Seder, and not just Jewish people are attending. My roommate is hosting an Easter Sunday brunch, and our friend, a staunch atheist, is invited.
And when we talk about what we’ve learned from these holidays and what we still seek answers to, the conversation awakens the part of us for which we came to college in the first place: to become educated and exposed to diversity in a way that makes us more whole.
And with all due respect, Santorum, that gives me faith.
Annu Subramanian, a junior majoring in journalism, is The Hatchet’s opinions editor.