Lee-Stitt: Prioritize interfaith inclusion
Blake Ziegler | Thursday, April 7, 2022
As the Lee-Stitt administration begins their term in office, I’ll offer the following Jewish prayer:
“Blessed are You, Adonai our G-d, Sovereign of all, who has kept us alive, sustained us and brought us to this season.”
Jews recite the Shehecheyanu for a new occurrence. I offer this prayer to welcome the new administration and illustrate the vibrant community of non-Catholic students on campus. Despite the fact that roughly 80% of our students are Catholic, an administration that aims to “uplift the voices of every student” cannot ignore the other 20%. This administration was elected on the promise to represent all students, especially those typically cast aside. This column seeks to demonstrate that promise extends to students whose religion (or lack thereof) is not the traditional faith of a Notre Dame student.
In the 2020 Inclusive Campus Survey, roughly 29% of respondents who identify as non-Catholic did not feel a sense of belonging at Notre Dame, compared to 9% of Catholic respondents. Also, 75% of respondents who experienced adverse treatment because of their faith reported the event negatively affected their sense of belonging on campus. All students, regardless of faith status, deserve to feel included as part of the Notre Dame family.
As co-president of the Jewish Club, I’m heavily invested in interfaith inclusion. I was concerned that the Lee-Stitt campaign didn’t reach out to any of our members during the election, despite the Jewish Club’s active involvement with Student Government. Moreover, I was appalled to see supporters of their campaign laughing when the Jewish Club inquired about interfaith policies at the presidential debate. This was accompanied by messages on YikYak that Jewish students don’t matter. These circumstances demonstrate a passive ignorance of other faiths at best or willful exclusion of interfaith voices at worst.
Upon evaluation of the Lee-Stitt platform for non-Catholic students, there is much work to be done. Most of their policies pertain to maintaining current programs or making information about non-Catholic worship and community activities more available. While that helps, it doesn’t address the substantive need for broader interfaith inclusion on campus. Simply publishing meeting times online won’t stop the next antisemitic or Islamophobic slur. I and others have experienced far too much religious-based hatred to condone their current platform. Our campus community is in dire need of non-Catholic students involved in faith life, rather than the minimal effort by Catholic student leaders.
One of their policies is holding “teaching Masses” to inform non-Catholic students about Catholic practices. This directive fails to recognize the heart of the issue and is frankly a bit insulting. Whether it’s through theology classes, attending Mass, or the Catholic atmosphere of this University, most non-Catholic students don’t graduate without at least a basic understanding of Catholicism. The issue is that Catholic students need broader exposure to non-Catholic faiths, necessitating non-Catholic led interfaith dialogue.
Some may cite the University’s Catholic identity as justification to subvert or ignore interfaith support. In their platform, Lee-Stitt note that “We understand that not every one of our fellow students is a Catholic, but we acknowledge that the identity of this university is Catholic.” The use of “but” ignores that those two clauses aren’t contradictory, but essential to Notre Dame’s Catholic mission. I’ve written before on how Church documents, such as “Nostra Aetate,” emphasize the need for Catholics’ engagement with Jews and Muslims. The Catechism of the Catholic Church broadens this message to other faiths, as “The Church’s bond with non-Christian religions is in the first place the common origin and end of the human race” and that the Church “recognizes in other religions that search, among shadows and images, for the God who is unknown yet near.” The Church’s interfaith dialogue doesn’t end at Abrahamic religions, but requires engagement with Buddhism, Hinduism and other non-Abrahamic religions.
Moreover, Notre Dame’s own mission extends beyond Catholics. Our Catholic identity embodies “a spirit of inclusion and welcoming of people from all faith traditions, or no faith tradition.” Campus Ministry cites the example of Jesus “to provide warmth and hospitality to all regardless of one’s religious belief or practice.” When Lee-Stitt emphasizes our Catholic identity, they shouldn’t forget that our University’s Catholicism calls for inclusion of other faiths.
To Lee-Stitt’s credit, there have been steps towards interfaith inclusion. They have indicated some interest in improving the experiences of non-Catholic students. However, messages of support are meaningless when not accompanied by action. At this moment, I see no action. Their campaign didn’t give substantive attention to interfaith issues, an attitude that has continued into their administration as there is consistent highlighting of opportunities for Catholic students, but none for non-Catholic students. If they’re not willing to address something that affects 20% of the student body, what does that say about their commitment to groups comprising less than that, whether related to race, ethnicity, gender or sexual identity, or other demographics?
In the interest of transparency, I’ll disclose that I worked for the Stinson-Sherman campaign and applied to be director of the Department of Faith. Despite others’ assumptions, I hope this administration continues the progress made by Njomo-Bisner on interfaith inclusion. I’m open to working with Lee-Stitt. This column’s purpose is to stress publicly the importance of interfaith inclusion, as the lack of attention on their platform is worrying.
Patrick Lee, Sofie Stitt and Nicole Baumann — you have the opportunity to do great work on interfaith inclusion. I pray you take it.
Blake Ziegler is a junior at Notre Dame from New Orleans, Louisiana, with double majors in political science and philosophy. He enjoys writing about politics, Judaism and the occasional philosophical rant. For inquiries, he can be reached at [email protected] or followed at @NewsWithZig on Twitter if you want to see more of his opinions.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.