In a university where the name Christian is prominent, how do we treat non-Christian students? Lubbock Christian University focuses on being a “Place of Faith.” Is this goal to be a Christlike community always achieved in how we treat people who are different than us?
It’s safe to say that most LCU students would call themselves Christians, or at least have some background of being involved with the religion. But, this isn’t the case for everyone.
There are students here that, just like anyone else, want a quality education. Some students may be here because they can excel in sports, others because of a special program of some type. They all have different reasons as to how they ended up here. However, they are often judged because of one thing. They’re not Christians.
As I’ve become close friends with several of these students at LCU, I’ve been introduced to many different walks of life. I’ve talked about religion, morals, and values of life with people who are different than I am. I’ve seen firsthand how non-Christian students are often treated a little differently.
To gain a better understanding of this issue, I talked with three students about the life of a non-Christian at a Christian university. Brandon Couling, a senior from the Isle of Wight in England; Abdou Joof, a sophomore from Banjul, Gambia; and Mariah Sweeney, a sophomore from Dallas, Texas, share their thoughts on their experiences here.
Do you follow a religion? If so, what?
Brandon: “I wouldn’t classify myself to a religion, but I believe that there’s something higher than us. But I’m not too sure what it is.”
Abdou: “I do follow a religion, I’m Muslim.”
Mariah: “I do not follow a religion – I believe in practicing spirituality similar to that of Buddhism (love is universal rather than based solely on a God), although I do not follow that specific faith.”
Do you like being here at LCU?
Brandon: “I think that the professors and people here are welcoming. I think there are obviously exceptions to that. But all around there are really nice people. They’re caring; they look out for people here and it’s just a real homey feeling.”
Abdou: “It’s a nice environment. The first day I got here I got welcomed by everyone. Everyone smiled at me and all that.”
Mariah: “Yes and no. I’d like to think most people have things they dislike and enjoy about the university they have chosen to attend. I like the people I have met, the fantastic professors, and the resourcefulness of the campus. On the other hand, I dislike the obvious pushy side of the faith-based campus. Yes, I did know coming into this that I was going to have to anticipate and deal with such things. But I think it is ridiculous to have to attend four Bible classes in order to graduate. I see that as selfish when the very thing everyone loves to say on this campus is, ‘We understand not everyone is a Christian.’ What about being self-aware that people had to take loans out or bust their butts in order to pay their tuition? Tuition that goes towards a class that has nothing to do with my major. That is the biggest flaw of LCU in my opinion.”
Do you feel like you are treated differently because you aren’t a Christian?
Brandon: “I think there are some incidences where we get judged because we’re not Christians. People think that we may be very, very different to them and obviously have a different outlook to life and stuff. So they sometimes judge us and see us in a negative way, thinking that we’re arrogant because we don’t believe what they believe.”
Abdou: “Yes. It happened in one of my classes; one of my professors found out I was Muslim and started giving me special treatment, which I didn’t like at all. Just treat me like any other human being.”
Mariah: “No, but not because of the open-minded classmates and teachers that surround me. I try and keep it to myself. I wouldn’t lie about it if someone asks me (which someone has in the past) but I don’t go out of my way to make it known. People who devote their faith to Christianity seem to get a different perception of whom you are if you don’t believe in the same thing. In reality, I am the same person. I try and practice the same thing a Christian does – being kind, loving everyone that I can, and executing self-love.”
Have there been specific times when people gave you a reason to believe not all Christians are the “welcoming” type?
Brandon: There’s been some racial occurrences. Discrimination has happened at this university. I’ve heard about people from different religions getting called different things, such as terrorists. Where I come from that’s very, very disrespectful. Even if you are from one religion, you don’t say that about another religion. You’re going against the whole Christian philosophy of caring for people, looking out for anybody of any walk of life. In that sense, it’s very contradicting, which is why sometimes people have that negative opinion of Christianity and the people here at LCU.”
Abdou: “There was this one instance I heard – this guy didn’t say it to my face – but I heard he called me a terrorist and said that I’m gonna bomb people or something like that. It was really irritating and annoying but I didn’t want to act on it. I just let it go.”
Mariah: “I feel lucky that my character tends to keep people by my side even once they find out I don’t believe in God. The worst part is how different people begin to act around you as if you’re some contagious thing that will infect their religious beliefs. I suppose no one who supports God wants to be seen [as]friends with someone who believes in the opposite.”
Do people place you in a stereotype?
Brandon: “I think everybody has that stereotype of ‘Oh he’s not a Christian; he’s going to hell. He’s a bad person.’ And people always have that preconception that we’re just going to be like any other foreign person – very different. But I think once people sit down and they get to talk to us, especially us internationals here at LCU, they see a totally different world and a different culture that we grew up in.”
Abdou: “With this [one]guy, he never knew me before, he never said hi or anything. But he just judged me based on the media. At least get to know people before judging.”
Mariah: “I do have friends at this school or back home who are complete atheists or similar to me in believing in a sense of spirituality/meditation. I’ve seen how cruel people can be. I think that is where the stereotype [comes from]that Christians are very intolerant of anyone who believes in something different.”
Do people here tend to push religion on you?
Brandon: “I’ve had religion forced upon me many times. But, it’s not a regular thing.
Abdou: “Some people are cool about it. We’re all people. So they don’t discriminate or anything or try to force their religion on me.”
Mariah: “No. As I said, I keep my thoughts to myself about God. I don’t want to offend anyone even if the same is not done vice versa.”
Do you feel that just because you attend a Christian University that you should have to attend Chapel?
Brandon: “I think it’s a great option to have out there and for people to, if they want to, willingly go. However to make it mandatory – it’s a fine line. Then you’re in the trouble of ‘Are you placing your opinions and beliefs on somebody because you’re forcing them to go?’ Or are you trying to be there with open arms and welcome them into the religion? Chapel is hit and miss sometimes. It’s hard for people of different religions; obviously they’re uncomfortable going to chapel because it’s against their religion. But, are they rude about it? Not at all. They go. They do what they have to do; then they leave.”
Abdou: “I don’t mind going to chapel, but it shouldn’t be compulsory. It should be optional, and then I wouldn’t mind. In chapel we have some great speakers, so that’s educational. I wouldn’t mind going to those. And sometimes I wouldn’t mind going to religious chapels, because Christianity and Islam are almost the same thing.”
Mariah: “I actually don’t mind chapel. I came here for sports so in a way I was not prepared for the amount of Bible-thumping attributes the school would possess, [such as]chapel. I dislike chapel for subjective reasons, not just because I am not a Christian – the singing. Who wants to sing at 10 a.m.? I’m sorry; I don’t. The person next to me who goes to church twice a week probably doesn’t want to either. More so, I find it to be a lot of pressure to participate in these things. I personally don’t care, but for others I know they just sing simply for concern of judgment. However, I’ve always found myself very engaged when people speak about real life issues or obstacles they’ve overcome.”
Have you met Christians here that have welcomed you?
Brandon: “There are some incredible people here at LCU and there are many that are very, very open-handed in the sense that they’re so welcoming and kind. They don’t care what background you have or what walk of life you’re in, they just care about you as a person.”
Abdou: “Yes, there are some that have actually tried to learn about my religion, which is good.”
Mariah: “Yes, I have, and they are wonderful people who have beautiful spirits to them. They are some of the people I’ve come to be the closest with.”
How do you think relations between Christians and non-Christians here at LCU can be improved?
Brandon: “It comes down to talking to people. If they truly sit down and talk to us internationals, people that are non-Christians, or people that are a different religion in total, like Islam. If they sit down they’ll see similarities. Even if they’re not affiliated with a religion at all, they’ll hear a story about someone who’s come from a completely different walk of life. Someone who is maybe unsure, like myself. Someone that’s in that boundary where they’re unsure of what they believe and what they truly believe in. When people are judged, they’re going to back away from that certain religion. The biggest thing is just to talk and communicate with people and learn about different lives apart from yourself.”
Abdou: “Putting in religious seminars, educating people. Try and learn something not in your religion and go out of your comfort zones and just see what other religions are about.”
Mariah: “I wish I had a definitive answer to this. Unfortunately, I think this is a cultural thing. Lubbock is filled to the brim with monopolistic churches that preach about not straying from one’s faith. The worst is hearing someone preach to people about spreading the word/love of God. Why? I’ve never understood that. So my best guess is intentional relationships between non-Christians and Christians lies in the culture made in Lubbock and the culture made at LCU.”
Is there something you wish more people knew about you?
Brandon: “Internationals and non-Christians, we’re human beings at the end of the day. We’re people; we all come from different walks of life, have different attitudes, values, and beliefs. We’re really great people. Especially, I know on the soccer team, I’ve been blessed with people from all around the world, with different cultures, ideas and beliefs and we’re like a family. We love each other at the end of the day.”
Abdou: “I’m an easygoing guy but I’m the quiet one. So, you might be afraid to come approach me, but I’m actually a nice guy. So before judging, just come say hello and I’ll say hello back and then we might be friends.”
Mariah: “That I have been through some serious adversity all my life. Those details aren’t important – just like someone’s religious beliefs. I wish people, in general, would rely less on how someone has chosen to direct their faith; rather, focus on the character and mentality of someone’s heart.”