Is there a place for everyone at CC’s spiritual table? That’s a qualified Yes, according to current students from several faith traditions. They describe a campus culture where religion neither unites nor divides the community — where they feel at ease and welcome, but not wrapped in a specifically spiritual atmosphere.
The four religious students say they’ve encountered mostly acceptance from nonreligious students — peppered by an occasional stereotype or lack of information. “On Ash Wednesday, 20 people must have told me I had dirt on my forehead, but people are open to it once they know what’s going on,” says Salmen.
Yet the four students see quite different levels of religious orientation among their peers. First-year Mommandi says, “Talking about religion seems taboo here. I haven’t encountered many people who openly identify with an organized faith.” But junior Thompson finds CC “religiously pluralistic — I have met many people who come from different religious backgrounds, and most students and faculty are accepting of other faiths even if they choose not to observe them.” Salmen, a senior, goes one step further, finding CC’s religious atmosphere “confused,” in an embarrassment-of-riches way: “The opportunities offered to both study and participate in various religions are endless!”
“I’ve never felt myself to be an outcast because I’m Jewish. I often wear one of my Jewish stars, called a Mogen David, around campus. People see that, and suddenly I’m the token Jew. While I don’t mind being asked questions about my background and culture, sometimes I worry that people assume all Jews feel the same way. However, there are many different sects and offshoots of Judaism, as well as individual viewpoints. I don’t like being the token Jew who winds up answering for the whole group!”
Mommandi also avoids being cast as a representative of her faith, saying, “Society and the press have decided that it’s everyone who’s good and moral against the evil fundamentalist Muslims. It’s naive to group one billion Muslims together — no other religion gets that. I’m not radical, I don’t wear a scarf, I go to school, but all of that doesn’t make me less Muslim.”
Mommandi fasted during Ramadan, but says she missed the purifying sense of the ritual because she was not surrounded by others who were also fasting and reflecting. “It just felt like I wasn’t eating, not like I was doing something meaningful,” she says. “I would be more comfortable with more Muslims on campus, but I’m comfortable now. I don’t like the stereotype that only people who are the same race or religion automatically hang out together. A really good friend I met here is Catholic. But most of the time, religion doesn’t come up when relating with people.”
Thompson says she avoids anything that might label her as Christian, because she wants to avoid “false associations. I see a large Christian culture in America that often does not reflect the compassion, humility, love, and peace that Christ taught. Before I came here, I was somewhat intimidated by rumors that CC was one of the least religious schools in the nation — I was afraid I would be the only Christian here! But there is a larger population than I thought. As I have grown spiritually, I have realized that being a Christian is something I can openly embrace without having to embrace the judgments or stereotypes that often accompany my faith.”
Salmen, a Catholic, calls the originally-Anglican Shove Chapel “my sanctuary since my first block class. With only a few pages of my first paper written, I was freaking out. My mom called me at midnight to see how it was going, and suggested that I go sit in Shove for an hour to relax and be silent. As it turned out, that was the best advice I received in college! Not a week has gone by when I haven’t slipped into Shove late some night to sit in silence and think or pray or meditate. Once I went in there around midnight and sat for a couple of hours. When I got up to leave, I saw Mike Sanchez, one of CC’s security guards, sitting in the back pew. He must have been waiting for me for over an hour. As I walked out, he simply nodded to me and locked up behind me.”
All three upperclass students enthuse about CC-organized religious events: Katz found her Judaism block class, co-taught by a local rabbi, interesting for its broad perspective on many aspects and branches of her own religion, and Thompson cites a block break spiritual retreat to the college’s Baca Campus last year, sponsored by the chaplain’s office, as one of her favorite times: “Students of all faiths visited multiple spiritual centers in Crestone. We had a lot of time to get to know each other and each others’ faiths. That trip offered me a better perspective on diversity and on my own faith.”
This year, says Thompson, “I took the Fire and Light class. The teachings of the Christian mystics exhibited a faith that found beauty in God’s creation, joy in serving people, and immense peace in solitude. I love the outdoors, running alone has been a really great way for me to connect with God and enjoy the beauty that surrounds Colorado Springs.”
Salmen, reflecting on four years at CC, sums it up: “While religious people may be a minority on campus, there is a common drive here toward understanding. Many of my classes have been intensely influential on my beliefs and my faith. The striving for truth that is the Colorado College experience has greatly empowered my own spirituality.”