Professor of Mathematics and Advisor to the Muslim Student Association (MSA) Nuh Aydin said he thinks that the way Islam is depicted in the may make some Kenyon students wary about identifying themselves as Muslim. Although Aydin said he has not faced discrimination within the Kenyon community, he said, some of his family members have been called “terrorists” in Mount Vernon.
Aydin said he feels that Muslim students and faculty members do not get the same amount of support from the College as other religious groups.
“There is a different degree of support for different religions by the College,” Aydin said. “For example, we have very big support for Judaism — there is a full-time person and facility for [Jewish] religious life, which is not the case for my tradition and many other traditions.”
Aydin said he and other Muslim community members are glad to have the Prayer and Meditation Center, but said that it occasionally floods. He hopes that the College will update the space soon.
In interviews with the Collegian, students and faculty practicing different faiths at Kenyon expressed feeling varying levels of support from the College. Other administrators, faculty members and students, especially those who practice Christian and Jewish faiths, said they felt more support from the College, but that different factors affected participation in their faith groups on campus.
Chaplain Rachel Kessler ’04 and the Donald L. Rogan Professor of Religious Studies Royal Rhodes believe that some students at Kenyon may feel a reluctance to participate in religious life because of the religious conservatism that is often associated with Christianity, even though they feel that is not reflected in Kenyon religious services.
“I’ve talked with students who have a reluctance to even go inside the church,” Kessler said. “Just because it’s this edifice, and there can be that fear or uncertainty about what am I going to get if I go in here, or how am I going to be judged.”
Kessler said she understands students’ uncertainties, especially because she has experienced this judgment firsthand. As a female priest, she said she has often experienced sexism and microaggressions on the job.
“Being told you look too young, I get that a lot, a whole lot,” Kessler said. “I’m in my mid-thirties. A male colleague in his mid-thirties is much less likely to get that comment.”
Kessler said she believes this stigma does affect student turnout to service on Sundays at Kenyon, but also said that once students go to service, they realize that the Kenyon faith community does not follow strict traditions.
Alexander Powell ’18, a leader of Newman Club who drives students to St. Vincent for mass every Sunday, said he believes Catholic students face a similar dilemma when it comes to practicing their faith. Powell and Rhodes believe that many students associate Catholicism with traditional religious conservatism.
“I think it [discourages people], especially at a place like Kenyon,” Powell said. “And although some of that is true, a lot of it is based on false stereotypes.”
When Rhodes came to campus in 1979, the College was still Episcopalian. He was the first Catholic professor Kenyon hired to teach in the religious studies department. He remembers a prickly reception from some members of the community, partly because Catholicism was linked to Irish and Italian immigration, which some people viewed unfavorably.
“Some faculty were horrified by the fact [that I was Catholic],” Rhodes said. “But I tried to assure them that I wasn’t on some mission from the Vatican.”
When former religious studies professor Dennis Bailey jokingly introduced him to the faculty, he called Rhodes “a Roman Catholic levin in an indigestible Episcopalian lump,” which he said upset the majority Episcopalian faculty.
Although many expressed seeing a decrease in student participation in religious life on campus, Marc Bragin, Jewish chaplain and director of Hillel, said that he has seen an increase in student participation in religious life. Bragin said that he has seen more people participating in Kenyon’s Interfaith Partnership, which brings all faiths together on campus, as well as Canterbury and Hillel. He also said that, in his 12 years at Kenyon, he has seen an increase in religious diversity at Kenyon and believes religion has become less stigmatized on campus.
Nate Gordon ’20, a student manager of Hillel House, said he always feels supported by the College and the community.
“I’ve never felt uncomfortable as a Jew at Kenyon,” Gordon said.
Bragin said, in general, he feels there is a better dialogue between the different religious groups on campus.
“Before, there was no connectivity. Now, we have a conduit where all groups can talk to each other and figure out how to support each other,” Bragin said. “And just because we believe in different things doesn’t mean different goals.”
In the future, Bragin hopes that the College creates a physical interfaith space for students.
“I’d like to see religion and spirituality be a litte more prevalent within student affairs and academic circles,” Bragin said. “Just so that students who identify as religious feel that they are supported on campus. We can always do a better job.”
Although the different faiths on campus feel different levels of support and comfort, everyone who spoke to the Collegian said they believe the practice of religion and spirituality is essential to the liberal arts curriculum and hope students continue to reach out to those with different beliefs.
“I’m a math professor, so just like math is essential to understand the world, religion is essential to understanding human behavior and society and history,” Aydin said. “So it is very much a part of the liberal arts.”
CORRECTION: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect Professor Nuh Aydin’s comments.