Most students attending GFU profess some kind of Christian faith, be it Quaker, Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, or any number of other denominations. However, a small but significant population of students either align themselves with other religions or identify as agnostic or atheist.
Atheist students, along with other non-Christian students, are not known at George Fox University (GFU) — at least, not in the same way Christian students are.
While GFU promises each student will be known at an individual level, non-Christian students find it difficult to see this pledge lived out, as many professors teach with the assumption that all students in the classroom are Christians.
Some professors may struggle to connect with non-Christian students because of their differences in faith. Professors use “we” and “us” when describing the ideologies and values of Christians, often without recognizing that not everyone in the room may feel like
A simple statement like, “I’m going to use ‘we’ when talking about Christians because I’m operating under the assumption that the majority of the class is Christian. If you do not agree with any beliefs addressed or have any questions regarding this, please ask me,” from a professor might do a lot to make students of other faiths more comfortable in class.
By acknowledging that non-Christian students attend this university, GFU can create stronger relationships with these students and work to build an atmosphere of understanding and community.
Another challenging place for non-Christian students is Bible class. One student, who asked to remain anonymous, informed me that in his Bible Survey class, the professor assumed all the students were Christians by asking them to write papers regarding the history of their church, with no alternative offered to students of differing beliefs. The same student shared his experience at GFU, saying, “I find great moments of just dire resentment against what’s being told to me . . . I find moments of real connection . . . to find the good in people, the love.”
These presumptions on the part of GFU, it seems to this writer, do not facilitate an environment where students from differing walks of life can come together and learn from each other’s journeys.
Often, when peers learn of a student’s religious difference, they ask, “Why are you here then?” Scholarship money, convenience, and family influence only skim the surface of that question.
One senior at GFU has been asked this question frequently. “In the end, it shouldn’t matter why people who aren’t Christian come here,” she said, “We are here and have every right to ‘be known’ . . . as
much as anyone else. So the ‘why’ shouldn’t matter. We
Creating a space where these students feel comfortable sharing their beliefs should be important to GFU. If GFU created a way to facilitate conversations between these students and other students who are Christian (maybe via a club on campus), understanding could be reached.
This diversity should not be scary. Rather, it should signal our coming together to address unique standpoints. Perhaps opening ourselves to the possibility of learning from one another would create a better Christ-like community. And isn’t that what GFU strives to provide?