Religious Inequality: Millersville and Anti-Semitism

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Aaron Jaffe
Advertising Manager

The struggle for equality has been a fight that continues on today. Through ignorance, prejudice continues to be wide spread amongst gender, race, creed and sexual orientation. The perceived majority has always been the leader in politics, societal norms and cultural values. However, how far should the public allow leaders to go before speaking up for the minority?

Millersville University lies in the heart of Lancaster County. It is a community dominated by white, Christian conservatives and traditionally famous for the Amish people that reside here. There is little diversity in this area and this has lead to major decisions being made in favor of the Christian majority.

Though there is more diversity on the University’s campus, including Jewish, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists – specifically 15.9 percent according to a climate survey done in 2009 – as compared to the outside community, the decisions made by the administration still seem to be made in extortionately high favor of the Christian majority.

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There is an inherent secularization found in the structure of the University and this starts with Campus Ministries. Campus Ministries is an umbrella organization within the University that encompasses religious/faith based student organizations. According to the Millersville’s website, to be considered a Campus Ministries organization you must have a religious leader that is certified by the University to lead students in that religion/faith.

Most of the current ministers on campus are paid by the church they come from to work with Millersville, however, due to the inherent structure of Judaism of not actively working to convert others to the Jewish faith, there is little to no possibility of having a Rabbi be paid to work with the University and its students. Being a campus minister takes a significant commitment of time and energy and to expect a volunteer with no affiliation with the University to make that commitment would be asking a lot of someone.

With that understood, the University would not allow a student organization without a religious leader to join Campus Ministries and would not allow the organization’s advisor to fill that role. This seclusion prevents those organizations from participating in admissions events including the Resource Fair for incoming students.

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This then prevents current and perspective students from learning that there is something other than Christian organizations on campus. When perspective and current students do not see this diversity, it creates a perception that the University is not open to religiously diverse students and leads to a lower diversity count and lower retention rates of students due to their feeling of seclusion on campus.

Katherine Kealey, currently the Director of the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, who planned the Resource Fair during the 2015 Orientation for incoming students, provided no viable explanation as to why the Hillel could not participate in that event when this arguable injustice was explained to her.

She stated, “Campus ministers are invited to participate in the resource fair, not clubs and organizations.” However, these campus ministers are only on campus due to their student organization. She also provided no explanation as to why the Advisor of Hillel, Dr. Barry David, could not serve in this role to include Hillel in these crucial retention and admission-based events. How can the University hope to be more diverse if they do not allow minorities to be heard?

Millersville has also made it difficult for those students who choose to stay and continue their education here to practice their religion/faith.

Inside the classroom, it has become far too common for professors who are not educated on the diversity of religious students and the requirements of their beliefs to not accommodate them when needed. Though the University gives a professor the ability to make the decision whether or not to excuse a student based on religious requirements, it becomes near anti-Semitic when those professors are not consistent with their allowances on excused class absences based on religious requirements.

More conservative Jewish students are required to take days of reflection, spiritual renewal and atonement on high-holidays (e.g. Yom Kippur) and some professors on campus have not given those students the ability to practice their religion freely based on their personal ignorance of the importance of the holiday. However, some of those same professors would allow students to be excused from a class because they share the same belief as that student.

However, if the professor does allow the student to be excused from class, they create an environment where it is nearly impossible to miss a class day and keep up with the course work. This causes the students to not miss class out of fear of losing major points towards their final grade and failing the class and go against their religious beliefs.

Outside of the classroom, Millersville has done little to be accommodating to the non-Christian students. Dining Services is a considerable example of this.

With the new meal plan – and even before then – the dining facilities on campus have given little accommodation to those students who eat kosher due to the requirements of their religion, primarily for the Jewish students.

Kashrut or Jewish Dietary Laws creates preventions on eating such items as shellfish, pork, eating dairy and meat together and more. With the new meal plan provided by dining, these dietary laws are not easily followed for those students who are forced to eat on campus.

During Passover Jews may not eat leavened bread. In an attempt to accommodate this, last year, only after students complained, dining placed a singular box of Matzah (unleavened bread) on a counter top. They placed this same box on the counter top for all eight days of Passover.

In a survey of 130 Millersville students and recent alumni, over 50 percent thought that there was no religious equality on campus. The majority of these students were also part of a Christian-based religion/faith. If even the majority can see how much inequality there is on campus, then how has this issue not been corrected?

“I think that we are taking steps in the right direction to resolve the issue,” said Amy Koss, a conservative Jewish student at Millersville. “But only cooperation and dedication from the school as a whole (staff, students and administration), will let people know that religious discrimination is not acceptable on our campus.”

Dr. Barry David, Advisor to Hillel, stated, “There seems to be a blindness to the diversity of religious beliefs on the campus.” This ‘blindness’ has held true knowing there has not been research done on this by Millersville since 2009. If the University cared, would there not have been more research done into this issue?

There is currently no required training to educate the campus community on religious diversity. Maybe it is time to start. If this training was implemented on campus it could lead to less ignorance of other religions. This could then lead to less prejudice and further understanding of the students and campus community.

Though there is optional training on people’s race and sexuality, it seems to be taboo to talk about religious diversity and that has seemed to hold back the development of religious awareness.

Thomas Paine once said, “I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.” Let’s hold this true and endeavor to make our campus more accepting.

  • Matt Johnson

    While I appreciate the author’s attempt to bring awareness to this issue, I think there are some problematic statements made throughout this piece that bear notice. The author claims that some professors are not fair in their handling of excused absences for religious holidays. Specifically, he claims that some professors excuse student absences for Christian religious holiday, but not Jewish ones. If true, this is a serious error in judgment and a problem to be addressed, but does he have any evidence of this claim: anecdotal or otherwise? During my time as a student–and now a professor–at Millersville I’ve yet to hear of a single instance where a professor refused to honor a Jewish holiday but did so for a Christian one. Of course, I cannot account for all classes, students or professors, but I think if you are going to level the charge of anti-Semitism (a very serious claim indeed) you ought to substantiate that claim. Secondly, while it might seem like a minor matter, Mr. Jaffe made an important error in the way he’s described the results of his poll (I’d like some specifics on what that poll asked and how and by whom it was conducted). He claims that “over 50% thought there was no religious equality on campus”. The poll question, at least as posed in the graphic, is “is there religious equality on campus?” Answering no to that question does not necessarily mean that I believe there is “NO religious equality”, it could simply mean that there is not FULL religious equality. It is a misleading exaggeration to say there is no religious equality on campus. Again, I’m glad the author has brought some of these issues to light, I think more careful writing is needed when dealing with serious claims of discrimination.