"It’s amazing to me how many people these days are offended by the mere mention of God."


williamsThe Ultimate Challenge of Being a Christian in College Today
Janice Cooper

Janice Cooper enjoys reading and writing, and she believes in the power of education to transform lives. A committed Christian, she values God, family and country, and she wants to make a positive difference in the lives of all whom she meets.

I will be the first member of my family to attain a college degree. Working toward this landmark accomplishment has been no easy feat, as it has taken many years and arduous effort on my part to overcome a myriad of hurdles. There have been many challenges and obstacles along the away—which include but certainly are not limited to homelessness; spousal abandonment; becoming a single parent on welfare; medical impairment; and unemployment vs. inferior employment because of upper educational deficiencies. I also completed almost four years of a curriculum, only to see the college I attended lose its accreditation, just prior to my receiving a Bachelor’s Degree. Even so, I remain affirmed that my immense faith in God has enabled me to persevere in the face of each of these obstacles, and to remain committed to the pursuit of my education.

My current educational endeavors here at West Los Angeles College are the outcome of my own determination to acquire the advantage of a degree previously denied me through unanticipated circumstances. Interestingly enough, I have found my Christian faith to be my most significant challenge during my pursuit of a college degree—not starting all over again, nor being a bit older in the quest. The conflict that has arisen out of my striving to maintain my Christian relationship with God and seeking to accomplish my educational goals has been painful. I would never have thought something as simple as selecting a class or fulfilling the curriculum requirements could prove so difficult. My faith has been challenged (time and again) in efforts to co-exist with peers possessing dispositions contrary to mine; also difficult has been dealing with instructors whose moral values and conduct were in significant contrast to my own, and even simply exposing my mind to the most basic concepts of the materials used in facilitating the class work, which have been contrary to my Christian doctrine. These challenges are fundamentally among the key factors that led to my choosing to become an online student primarily. In online coursework, I found I could at least control the type of things I was environmentally exposed to during my coursework, such as instructors or classmates spewing profanity during our interactions, or risking a dispute arising when someone objected to my wearing a religious artifact or an article of clothing that attested to my faith. It’s amazing to me how many people these days are offended by the mere mention of God. For some reason, it seems recently, and in a college setting more than any other environment, conflicts have become more eminent in relation to people’s faith, or lack thereof. I personally do not aspire to questioning nor impugning another’s religious beliefs – yet I have been challenged on more than one occasion in school by those who objected to my right to display, even subtly, a belief in God. Today in school, clothing and items displaying a “Skull and Crossbones” are acceptable, but wear a “Jesus” t-shirt, and there is bound to be an argument arising somewhere as a result.

However, it’s not just the social factor that has presented a challenge for me as a Christian in college; there have been issues with course selections as well. I’ve found myself having to refrain from enrolling in certain courses like Mythology or Anthropology, and even Philosophy, principally because I recognized that Christian principles might be challenged and/or disputed. I am not one who seeks to argue issues pertaining to faith, nor one’s religious choices. Having grown up in Los Angeles, I acknowledge that there are many different kinds and races of people here, all of whom have a Constitutional right to their own spiritual and cultural practices. As long as we provide one another with mutual respect in doing so, then I see no problem. My faith teaches me that ultimately God gave every person the right to free choice, and every person is accountable (in the end) only to Him for whatever those choices may be. However, when I read a course description wherein I discover that discussion will occur related to mankind’s evolution from animals or similar topics—I have to question how I could morally ingest such concepts, which are so ardently in contradiction to what I believe. I know that I could not conscionably sit through such curriculum without adamantly being in perpetual conflict with such ideology. Thus, having to make class schedule choices has been a hardship for me on occasion, when a course at odds with my Christian doctrine may have been the only course available that fit into my required curriculum. Yet, I have learned to be very creative and patient in concluding the coursework needed to accomplish my goal of graduating – and I have succeeded without having to compromise my faith or academic progress. On several instances I did find myself enrolling in more than one college per semester, in order to meet both academic and faith requirements, but I found it was an extra step I was willing to take in order to sustain the morals and precepts that I ascribe to.

Even so, in being as meticulous and scrupulous as I possibly could be in my curriculum selection, I did still encounter the occasional assignment that placed me at a crossroads. For example, in an English class that I took, one of the reading requirements was The Woman Warrior, a novel by Maxine Hong Kingston that, while very intriguing and interesting to read, did possess several mystical and spiritual concepts that placed me in conflict with its content. There were descriptions of ghosts and spirit inhabitations and chanting practices that forced me to keep reminding myself while reading, “This is just an assignment!” Many times I found portions of the material so dark and foreboding that I would literally have to put the book down and cease from reading for a time. I was reared in a Christian background that impressed on me the conviction that whatever you allow to come into your person, either through hearing or vision, can have significant impact upon the person (the soul). Hence, my family and I are very mindful of the works that are read in our household and even the music listened to or television programs/movies that we watch. Additionally, we refrain from anything that is negative, oppressing, or emulating occultism. That’s not to say that we are “holy rollers” or modern-day zealots; we simply are very mindful of what goes into our spiritual person, much like the vegetarian who is mindful of what he or she ingests, for concern of toxins and substances presumed to be unhealthful to the physical body.

Thus, the challenge for me in completing the Kingston novel became to find my balance, in much the same way that I try to find balance in the environment that I live in, by allowing others to live in agreement with their faith, as long as I am respected in the same manner. Hence, I made a point to myself to reinforce the idea that this was an assignment and nothing more, and in coming to terms with that, I was able to move past my moments of contention. I also reminded myself that, because I am a Communications major with a minor in Sociology, Kingston’s novel could provide a substantially valuable insight from a cultural perspective, which could essentially prove an invaluable tool to me in the future. Nevertheless, there remained portions of the novel that I simply could not get past (despite this rationale). Thus, I made a point to honestly communicate my quandary to my instructor, who pointed out the cultural significance of the work. I can say that honestly I would not have picked such a work for myself to read personally (had I been given the option), but I did see the ultimate overall value in being exposed to Kingston’s novel.

In my prior educational endeavor, challenges to my faith did not arise, as I attended a Christian institution. Yet this time, I had to opt for an institution that I could afford to attend and which was secure in its accreditation status. Initially, in selecting my classes at West (or any of the other LACCD colleges), I did not typically perceive that materials involved could in any way challenge me morally, ethically or otherwise (as did the Kingston novel). Yet that reading assignment is actually not the first time I have had to address coursework materials that placed me in an uncomfortable position from a Christian perspective. However, understanding that the Los Angeles Community College system is not governed by Christian principles, I have found the key in these types of circumstances has been to communicate openly with my instructors. In regard to online instruction, it is especially difficult for a professor to identify a student’s level of comfort or discomfort with material, unless a student makes his or her position known. I greatly respect and admire the educators at West for their integrity in relation to such issues. At West, instructors consistently demonstrate sensitivity when addressing students’ concerns about issues of faith.

Ironically, I know that many people I have interacted with in college may not have initially identified me as a Christian. Unlike religions where your attire is part of what identifies you as a partaker in that faith specifically, Christians don’t necessarily present a persona outwardly that screams, “Hey, I am a Christian!” For this reason, I have had many of my acquaintances on campus do and say things around me that proved quite challenging. For instance, classmates have cheated on tasks and then openly confessed in my presence to doing so, and every other word coming out of some students’ mouths has been a profanity or sexual innuendo that left me quite uneasy – so I have had to demonstrate sincere tolerance in spite of such a monumental conflict with my moral and ethical principles. After all, it is a free country. You cannot legitimately tell another adult what to do or say, just because that person’s words or actions do not agree with your own Christian philosophy. However, most students soon realize that I am a Christian. Eventually, just based upon my conduct and speech, folks come to recognize a difference in the way they communicate and how I ultimately respond. However, in online classes, not many can discern this truth right off, as I have actually deemed it much more respectful to my peers not to be the sort of person who just throws my religious disposition into a discussion, or even my racial heritage. Even though my religion and ethnicity are a significant component of who I am fundamentally, again I have found that if I allow my demeanor to speak for me, then I can speak more powerfully in that manner, than through any verbal declaration that I could make.

There is a passage of scripture in the Book of Matthew, in which the apostle Peter is met by a crowd who eventually declares of him:

Surely you too are one of them [Christians]; for even the way you talk gives you away. (26:73)

I’d like to hope that this, too, is the way most of my associates and acquaintances eventually come to see me. I want them to see that that there is something different and encouragingly positive about their encounter with me. This hope is sincerely one of my utmost motivators in life...to leave people different than when I first interacted with them. Thus, I have not found it as much of a challenge being a Christian in college as I have found contemplating this important question: “How I have affected those with whom I interacted while in college?” Did anyone gain anything positive or life-changing as a result of contact with me? Did I touch any life in a way that gave new hope, purpose and meaning? When my college peers and faculty think of me, will I be just another person who transitioned through their lives, or will I have said something (anything) that will, along the way (at some later point in their lives), resurface and inspire how they ultimately touch others in their world? If I have made a positive difference in the life of even one person whom I have encountered while on my academic journey, then that difference has made my college experience all the more worthwhile. To make this difference is the ultimate challenge that being a Christian in college has presented to me.