Embracing diversity: Religious intersections at Princeton
Published: Thursday, November 15th, 2012
As a freshman on Princeton’s campus, I felt compelled to try out for everything. That impulse is what led me to Quipfire! auditions one rainy Wednesday night.Desperate to fill the awkward silence as we waited for our turn to go in, I turned to the girl next to me and said, “That’s a really pretty Star of David necklace you have on! Are you Jewish? I am really interested in Judaism and think it’s a beautiful religion!”She gave me the side-eye and groused out a “Yes.” After another beat of awkward silence, she said, “Are you an owl?”I was utterly confused until I remembered the owl pendant I happened to be wearing that day. A little flustered, I said, “No, haha … I’m pretty sure I am a human being.”She crossed her arms and said, “Oh. Well, I guess I just assumed then!” And then turned away. And I just felt awkward. Needless to say, I didn’t get a callback from Quipfire.The conversation left me to wonder: Was this a signal that Princeton would be way different from home? Would those of one religion get turned away from partaking in the cultural ceremonies and idiosyncrasies of another religion, just because they didn’t belong to it? I’m black Southern Baptist, but back home in Charleston, S.C., I was also a member of my high school’s Jewish Student Union. I was welcome at every Shabbat, Passover dinner and Hannukah celebration I’d ever tried attending. But after my bizarre encounter with my fellow Quipfire hopeful, I started to fear that maybe the North was a little different. Maybe up in New Jersey, the Episcopalians stayed with each other and the Hindus did, too. That was a notion that made me wildly uncomfortable. Wasn’t the point of college to experience everything that a diverse student body, a varied sampling of individuals, has to offer?But after two months on campus, I’ve been ecstatic to find that I’ve been welcome at absolutely every religious or cultural event I’ve attended, from Catholic mass to Bhangra parties. And I’m not the only seemingly incongruous face in the crowd — that’s what people are doing all over the University.Kate Wadman ’16 gets up every Sunday at 7 a.m. to sing exuberantly with the Chapel Choir. Immediately after, she takes the Dinky to Trenton to attend services at the Church of Latter Day Saints. She is Mormon. And she sees absolutely no conflict.“I love being Mormon,” Wadman says. “And I definitely think Chapel Choir is a very accepting group. When we sing in English we sometimes change the words in our songs to be more applicable to various religions, and although the services we sing for on Sundays are Christian, they are ecumenical and don’t favor one branch over another.”The Center for Jewish Life on campus is perhaps the pinnacle of religious intersection on campus. As Associate Director Marni Blitz explains, “We welcome and encourage students from all religious, ethnic and cultural backgrounds to feel at home at the Center for Jewish Life. We have a warm and caring community that actively respects and celebrates diversity.”Being a frequent CJL visitor has been one of the highlights of my time at Princeton thus far. There is a marked difference between Friday nights at Shabbat dinner and the Sunday afternoons my family spends after church at home — and there is a lot that I’ve learned from juxtaposing these two experiences. The opportunity to explore everything is a sentiment that deeply excites me. Where else but on a campus like Princeton’s can you find so many different experiences at your fingertips? In my opinion, it seems like a wasted opportunity to not at least try to be involved in many of them.All these weeks later, I still find my encounter with the girl at Quipfire auditions a little funny and a lot awkward. But it made me think seriously about the type of religious environment I was walking into when I came to Princeton. And after exploring a little bit, I’ve discovered that diversity of religious thought is always welcomed on this campus. And that makes me happier than you can imagine.