Dunbar: Northwestern students have lost valuable source of religious exploration


Blair Dunbar, Columnist

On Nov. 7, a federal appeals court upheld the dismissal of a case against Northwestern’s decision to cut ties with the Tannenbaum Chabad House. The Chabad House was a local Jewish center that arranged a host of programs, from educational services to holiday celebrations. Unfortunately, with the court’s decision, the future of the Chabad House is uncertain. However, what is certain is that students have lost a potential outlet for religious exploration during college.

When I think of NU, I imagine an entirely secular campus. Sure, the University was built under the patronage of the Methodist Episcopal Church, but that was back in the 1850s. NU is certainly not a University of Notre Dame or Georgetown University, which are known for their Catholic affiliations. As a result, I didn’t necessarily think my college years at NU would provide the opportunity of religious exploration. That is, until the first week on campus, when Cru handed out free sunglasses to the new freshmen.

Most students upon coming to campus have simply absorbed the religious practices of their parents. But your parents don’t live on campus with you. With their newfound independence, students have the opportunity to determine for themselves whether they really want to fast during Yom Kippur or if church services have more significance than the opportunity to stand up and sing pretty songs. Not only is college a time to see if your true calling is ballroom dancing or beer pong, it is also a time to either reaffirm old religious beliefs or find new ones. After all, part of defining who you are as a person is defining your religious identity.

A good friend of mine grew up in a highly active Christian family. When he first came to NU, he wasn’t sure if the biblical teachings that had been so ingrained in his head during his childhood would still ring true. Then, he became highly active in Cru on campus and began contemplating a life of missionary work. My other friend took the opposite path. Growing up in a Christian household as well, he had begun questioning the existence of God during high school. After attempting to join a Christian group on campus, he soon realized that despite his years of Sunday church services and dinner prayers, he simply didn’t believe in the existence of God at all. Now he’s an atheist.

And me? I grew up in a small suburb of Chicago called Geneva, with little religious diversity. The closest synagogue is at least 20 miles away, and I could probably count the number of Jewish students at my high school on two hands. My father is Christian, but my mother is Jewish. Neither of them is particularly religious, but I always wanted to explore my Jewish heritage. And what better time is there for exploration than college? Of course, any fellow NU student knows that with the quarter system and extracurricular activities, plans quickly change. But it’s my senior year, and I decided I was finally going to ask some questions and get some answers. Now I’m not so sure this is a possibility.

Whether the federal appeals court was right or wrong, one fact remains: Students at NU have lost a valuable source of religious exploration and a place where they might find a religious community they can call home.

Blair Dunbar is a Weinberg senior. She can be reached at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, email a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].