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Exploring Spirituality, Faith and Religion at Smith

A Report by Brianna Jackson,'16

Although Smith College is not a religiously-affiliated institution, religion is an integral part of the lives of several students on campus. At the "Exploring Spirituality, Faith and Religion in the College Years" panel discussion, held during Family Weekend in October, Smith students recounted "their exploration of spirituality, faith, and religious observance in the context of their Smith education." The student panel consisted of Emily Branton '14, Emily Carroll '16, Pia Furkan '16, and Halimat Ipesa-Balogun '16. The panel was moderated by Jennifer Walters, Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life, and Matilda Cantwell, Interfaith Fellow. The students' spiritual and religious journeys at Smith have varied, but here, these students found a home to tap into these beliefs.

Having the freedom to share with others their spiritual identity was very important for the students on the panel. At Smith, Halimat Ipesa-Balogun '16 enjoys the privilege of "not having to be prepared to present herself" or constantly anticipate questions from her peers about her religion. The dialogue at Smith about religion is one of respect and genuine interest. Emily Carroll '16 likes how "spiritual conversations happen in unexpected ways at Smith." Through engaging with others who have different religious experiences than their own, Smith students exhibit tolerance about the various traditions represented on campus.

Students on the panel had positive experiences with incorporating religion and spirituality into their lives at Smith. Pia Furkan '16 worked with the Social Justice Representatives in her house to host interfaith events within the house for students to share their religion and spirituality. Religious and spiritual events in the house allow members to share their heritage and customs in a supportive environment. "Religion and spirituality are connected with ones well being," Emily Carroll '16 said. She feels that the suppression of religion in college could negatively affect one's experience at Smith socially and academically. Recognizing and addressing the religious and spiritual needs of the students is the best way to ensure a positive experience for everyone at Smith.

Smith College empowers students to be confident in their religious identity. As the college encourages students to achieve their full potential, it has helped them think about their religion in the context of their lives. Beyond feeling like a representative of their religion at a non-religiously affiliated institution, students on the panel found a home for their religious identity at Smith. They discovered a personal agency in interpreting their religion. Emily Branton '14 spoke of how she accepts the dogma of her Jewish religion by thinking critically about it. "It is fun to be rebellious," she said, and she gets excited to talk to discuss her religion and gain a greater understanding about her beliefs by critiquing certain aspects of her religion. Smith College provides its students with the strength to be assertive in their religious identity while creating a space for themselves in their own religion.