Students keeping their faith in sight
While religious students can face discrimination, clubs help create a like-minded community
Spirituality on campus
Any Queen’s student can join in on events held by religious groups on campus. Below are events held by on-campus clubs that represent the most recognizable religions in the world.
Social programming: Shabbat dinners on Friday nights.
Religious programming: a club event to light Menorah candles for every night of Hanukkah.
Queen’s University Ismaili Students Association
Social programming: sports night on Friday nights.
Religious programming: traveling to mosque every day to pray.
Social programming: volunteer outreach with the men’s prison.
Religious programming: attending mass every Sunday.
At Queen’s, toting your spirituality means more than getting the company of fellow religious students. It can end in some discomfort in this ever-secularized world.
“The majority of students do feel comfortable here, but I also do occasionally hear from students who remind me that there are still issues to be dealt with,” Queen’s Chaplain Brian Yealland said.
In the Chaplain’s office, located in the JDUC, Yealland said he’s spoken to students who have been on the receiving end of offensive comments or strange looks due to their religious beliefs.
“I’ve had Muslim women come to me having felt derisive looks from people due to their choice to wear a head covering,” he said. “I’ve also then had students worried about class content and how it’s been dismissive of their religion.”
But at a school with 17 different religiously-affiliated AMS clubs, it’s easy for religious students to gravitate towards one. While like-minded students often socialize together, Yealland said there are both advantages and disadvantages to this.
“It’s a good thing to hang out with people like you for companionship, but it’s a bad thing because university is where you get the chance to cross boundaries,” he said.
For those in this close-knit community, derisive issues can be less influential, Yealland said.
“If they’re spending most of their time with similar people, then they’re not going to run into issues at all,” he said.
For Janice Lee, her membership in the Queen’s Chinese Catholic Community (QCCC) has been a gateway for her to continue practicing her faith away from home.
Despite her origins as a “cradle Catholic” — the term for someone who was raised in the faith — she doesn’t make her religious beliefs obvious.
“I don’t get in people’s faces and tell them I’m Catholic, but it’s not that I would deny it,” Lee, ArtSci ’14, said. “I go to mass every Sunday and try to do everything that’s involved in my faith, like [going to] confession because that’s a big part as well.”
So when Lee came to Queen’s three years ago, she said finding some kind of Catholic group on campus to join was a priority for her.
“Joining a religious group gives you a sense of family because you know everyone there shares the same perspective and challenges with expressing your faith on campus,” she said.
While Lee said none of her non-religious friends have ever judged her, she does tend to hang around Catholic friends.
“I have Catholic values so I tend to converse with people who aren’t judgemental of who I am and what my preferences are,” she said. “I hang out with a lot of Catholic friends because they’re amazing people.”
However, when discussing her most intimate personal details, Lee said she would rather discuss it with her friends who are also Catholic, who she identifies with more easily.
“There’s just different levels of friendship,” she said.
This particular kind of connection led to Khalif Savji’s place as the Chair of the Queen’s Ismaili Muslin Students’ Association (QUIMSA).
As someone who wanted to connect with people similar to him, Savji’s task was made easy because the former members of QUIMSA knew he was coming to Queen’s.
“Because the Ismaili community is so close-knit, a lot of people have big families in the big cities like Vancouver, Ottawa and Toronto and a lot is heard through word of mouth,” Savji, ArtSci ’14, said.
During the club’s registration this year, they estimated that there were 60 to 70 Ismaili students signed up on campus.
“We have about 45 in our club right now and a core group of 20 Ismailis that do come to all of our club events,” he said.
Savji’s been a practicing Ismaili Muslim his whole life and he said he always had a choice in his faith.
“I was raised into the religion, but at the same time, I wasn’t told that this is the way it is and that’s the way it has to be — we were encouraged to question,” he said.
In the classroom though, faith doesn’t have the same kind of place, according to religious studies professor William Morrow.
Morrow said even in the religious studies department, the individual faiths of the students in the seats isn’t something widely discussed.
“I think that the status of faith in the classroom isn’t something that’s usually explored, even in the School of Religion,” he said.
The reason for that lies in the School of Religion’s commitment to academic discourse, Morrow said, despite what people may perceive.
“There’s a sense in which it’s simply not appropriate to be demanding of students that they make some kind of reveal of their own relationships to some of the materials we might be discussing.”
Morrow said despite this some of the courses that he teaches might be intimidating to students.
“I teach Introduction to the Jewish Bible and I’m sure it must be quite threatening to some students to talk about events such as the Exodus as legendary rather than strictly factual.”
And in a world where institutions are becoming more and more secular, it makes sense — personal faith isn’t as widely acknowledged as it was 100 years ago.
“It’s not like there’s any kind of public policy that’s really ‘anti-religious,’” he said. “The decision-making practices that people use don’t appeal to those belief systems in the public sphere.”
— With files from Janina Enrile