Student Spotlight: Religious Minorities Reflect on Campus Life
By Emma Weidmann | Personal editor
Baylor is the largest baptist university on the planet. last fall, more than 65% of freshmen identified as a denomination of the Christian religion, from Baptist to Methodist, Evangelical and more. While a significant portion of campus identifies as non-religious, Baylor is not just a dichotomy between Christians and non-religious. Who are the 20% religious minority students?
McAllen junior Hali Temkin is among a small percentage of Jewish students here at Baylor, just 0.2% of freshmen in fall 2021. That’s just eight students out of the entire class of 2025, a population of 4,200 students.
Temkin said being part of a religious minority in Baylor can be difficult because of the Christian classes required and the difficulty of finding a community. Of all her friends at Baylor, only one is Jewish, and she has yet to find a place of worship with any others in Waco.
“My friends and I met this retired professor, Dr. Tom Hanks. He saw my necklace which had my Hebrew name on it and said there were a few teachers here that I should meet,” Temkin said.
Through Dr. Hanks, Temkin met Dr. Stephen Silverstein, a Spanish teacher at Baylor, with whom she formed a bond based on their religion. Temkin shared a traditional Shabbat dinner with Dr. Silverstein, which she says made her feel the closest to having a religious community in Baylor.
Temkin was raised religiously, going to the Temple, to Jewish summer camp and to Israel for her brother’s Bar Mitzvah. But, it came with challenges. Temkin said she sometimes hears anti-Semitic comments, which still happens, even now that she’s in college.
“In middle school, someone said, ‘Hitler should have killed her,'” Temkin said. “There was this guy who had a meme account at Baylor, and he posted about how immigrants are rapists. I live on the border and my family is from Mexico, so I got mad and started texting him like “how could you say that?” We sort of touched on religion and he said people of other religions shouldn’t be able to practice publicly. He was like, ‘you shouldn’t make it people’s business.’
But, that’s not all the hardships and biases Temkin says he found on this campus. She described her experience last Christmas, when her housemates decorated the apartment and set up a Hanukkah corner for her. Temkin also said teachers and students often express curiosity about her religion and she is always happy to have discussions about what it is to be Jewish.
Katy senior Sanjana Natarajan also said that practicing Hinduism at Baylor is difficult and inconvenient, but being part of the Indian Subcontinent Students Association has helped her build community.
Natarajan said that while she has never faced outright prejudice for practicing Hinduism at Baylor, it is discouraging to hear uneducated comments or preconceptions.
“The most important thing is the mixture of Hindi and Hindu,” Natarajan said. “Hindi is the language and Hindu is the religion. I understand they have similar names, but I feel like it takes two seconds to look it up.
Porter’s freshman, Alisa Donis, is Catholic. Although there is some debate over whether Catholicism is under the Christian umbrella, it is not a matter of opinion that Catholic students are a minority at Baylor compared to Protestants. About 16% of freshmen in the same fall 2021 survey said they identified as Catholic, a relatively small slice of the population.
Donis said she feels there is a lot of ignorance surrounding the Catholic faith.
“It’s its own separate branch and it differs a lot from Protestants and non-denominational Christians, but it can’t be un-Christian,” Donis said. “Everyone I met was curious and open to hearing what I had to say about my religion, but hearing something like ‘Catholicism is close to a cult’ is unsettling to hear. Most of the time , when people say these things they don’t look into the teachings or why we do things Hearing these things upsets me because people don’t understand [Catholicism] and they don’t want to understand it.
According to the Islamic faith, Nelley Sobh, a senior from Fort Worth, is part of the 1%, that is to say Baylor students. Sobh is a leader of the Middle East Student Association, which she says faced challenges from the administration when she tried to get certified.
According to Sobh, the administration was initially skeptical of the association, assuming it would focus on the Muslim faith, even though several members are Christians. Sobh said she wants people to be aware of the diversity of the “Middle Eastern” label and to be curious about others, not ignorant.
“Even in Egypt, many private schools you send your children to are Christian, Coptic or Orthodox,” Sobh said. “It wasn’t hard to understand what I was getting into coming to Baylor. But it was superficial culture shock to have to go to chapel and see people in their element.
Sobh said the idea that non-Christian students shouldn’t come to Baylor has the same tone as telling immigrants to go back to their countries.
“We have the opportunity to be here,” Sobh said. “But we also want to be respected for our religion.”
Sobh encouraged students to get involved in interfaith organizations like better togetherso that there can be more interaction and understanding between students of different faiths.
Sobh said his advice to students of minority faiths and those who may be unaware of these students’ background is to be open-minded.
“A lot of people come to Baylor thinking everyone around them is Christian. People have to realize that there is a diverse population in Baylor,” Sobh said. face value It’s so easy to stick to stereotypes.