Anti-Semitism is on the rise. UMD should respond with new religious studies requirement

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By Mitzpeh staff
@Mitzpeh

 

In the aftermath of a Jewish professor at Columbia University finding swastikas spray-painted across the walls of her office, following acts of anti-Semitism present throughout this nation and even at this very university, the Mitzpeh staff believes a change needs to be made within our own university’s standard curriculum.

This university is exceptionally diverse when it comes to religion. We have the fourth largest Jewish population of any school in the U.S. along with significant student populations who identify within four major religions, not to mention various streams within each one, as well as atheism and countless smaller faiths.

If you look around on an average day at the STAMP Student Union or while walking through campus, it’s not hard to notice yarmulkes, hijabs and discussions about Jesus. Religion at this university is too evident to miss.

Religious symbols from the top nine organised faiths of the world according to major world religions. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Yet when speaking about the recent shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue, and anti-Semitic incidents on our very own campus, we as the Mitzpeh staff (which is comprised of students from different religions, not just Judaism) realized that the UMD community may be unfortunately uneducated about what the Jewish religion is.

Now, the words of Daryl Davis, a black musician who befriended the leader of Maryland’s Klu Klux Klan in the ‘80s, ring eerily true in our nation and throughout our campus. “Ignorance breeds fear,” Davis said. “We fear those things we do not understand.” And to quote Yoda: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Defeating the ignorance and silencing the hate starts with the education system here. Diversity has always been about opening our eyes to different perspectives on race, gender and sexuality. Now it is time for this student body to open its eyes to different perspectives on religion.

We suggest a solution to this, and to religious discrimination in general: the university should offer a religious studies class that covers a wide array of religious cultures and belief systems common at this university, and make it required for all students.

Mitzpeh recognizes that there already is a religious studies minor and optional classes that fulfill general education requirements in place, but we have already seen through acts of anti-Semitism that the system as-is does not engage enough students who have sparsely or never been exposed to Judaism and possibly other religions. Most students who are not already interested in religions and cultures coming into college may not be willing to take a course to study them. The topic can seem daunting and even frightening.

If students continue to abstain from optional religious studies classes, the ignorant will remain ignorant, inspiring fear and eventually hate for unfamiliar religions. We cannot allow this to be.

One could make the point that because of separation of church and state, American public institutions have to be separate from religion. This would not at all be violated by a religious studies class: the university will not favor or negatively portray any religion over any other, and will do its best to cover every religion as equally as possible. The goal of the class would simply be to learn about and explore different cultural and belief systems, especially those that can be found at this university.

We encourage other universities and schools to also offer similar required courses. As our world becomes more religiously diverse but also more polarized and divisive, it is critical that the next generation of leaders is able to understand and navigate this diversity.

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