Dialogue, Not Curriculum

When I fill out an application or a questionnaire, I am always infuriated. Between the dark black lines, I scribble, “Elizabeth A. Oppong”, “female”, African American, 16 and so on. Easy. But what angers me is when I get to the question on religious affiliation, and I am expected to pick one or check the “other” box. What is an affiliation anyway? The dictionary lists it as membership, connection, or link. I am indeed Catholic because of my baptism and confirmation into the Church, so that is a membership. But what gets tricky is “connection” and “link”. My mother was a Methodist before she married my father and got confirmed as Catholic, but the rest of my maternal extended family is still mostly Methodist. Isn’t that a “connection?” And I should also mention that before colonization in Ghana, many of my ancestors practiced local ancestral worship. What does that make me then? A lot of my peers don’t know this side of me, and I think that is a sign that we have not had a enough discussion on religion at Andover. I don’t think that requiring students to read the Bible for Andover will solve that problem completely though. I understand the idea that it will be enriching to students in their other literature texts, but let it stand for that purpose alone. From personal experience, I can say understanding comes primarily through dialogue, and that is what we need on campus. Through discussion with my non-Catholic friends at Andover, they gained a new understanding of being Catholic today. It isn’t what the media portrays it to be, it’s much more than that. With the recent news on the sex scandals of the Church, and the child of homosexual parents being denied from a school, I was asked to give the “Catholic view” on this experience. Considering that my knowledge on the Catholic Church is not very expansive and I have no ability whatsoever to represent the views of the Catholic community, I only had this to say: the Catholic Church is a global community that lends its hand and heart to those in need. That is why immediately after the earthquake in Haiti, Catholic support groups were some of the first to dispatch their volunteers to help. In our own Boston area, the archdiocese plays a huge role everyday in helping immigrants assimilate and get on their feet. These are a few examples of the many great things the Catholic Church does on a regular basis because we are much more than our institutional leaders. Discussion of religion in Andover needs to be just this. In my opinion, the silence isn’t from fear, it is just that religion has never been brought up in this manner. It is clear that Andover is full of many different students of many different religions, and the challenge for us as a community lies in making sure that each one of their unique experiences and stories is told. And this doesn’t mean that we halt our great discussion on race, gender, sexuality, and class, but rather I think it means that we should find a way to incorporate religion into these discussions. We should ask how is it to be African American in Judaism? What are the roles of women in the Catholic Church today? How does class affect Hinduism? So no, as a Catholic, I don’t see intentionally integrating facets of Christianity into our curriculum by using the Bible is the answer right now. I think our focus should be on increasing the dialogue. Elizabeth Oppong is a two-year Lower from Bogart, GA.