Stanford University, like any other major institution of higher learning in America, prides itself on the diversity of its students. Yet on its campus the devout of any faith are hard to come by, receive few accommodations from administrators, and face the bewilderment of their peers. Ben Simon, drawing on his own experiences as an observant Jew, and conversations with religious students of various faiths, reports:
Though the undergraduate student body comprises just over 7,000 students, one can count on one or two hands the number of religious Jewish undergraduates. . . . The story is similar when it comes to religious Muslim students. . . .
Stanford places a great deal of emphasis on building robust ethnic communities. How many other universities have dorms dedicated to fostering Black or Latino or Asian culture and community? But when it comes to strong traditionally religious communities, save for a slightly larger Christian contingent, Stanford is conspicuously lacking, especially when compared to other top-tier universities. . . . It may be unreasonable to expect a secular institution like Stanford to accommodate fully each student’s religious needs. With that said, Stanford goes far beyond the letter of the law when it comes to ethnic or racial diversity but does little to go out of its way to help religious students. . . .
When it comes to day-to-day interactions between secular and religious students, questions of religious practice and belief are oftentimes avoided. “People are too afraid to ask me about my practices,” says “Fatima,” [a Muslim student] who wears a hijab and prays five times a day. . . . “Rachel,” [an Orthodox Jew], also wishes religious topics weren’t taboo. “It’s obvious that everyone I interact with on a daily basis knows I’m religious, but no one ever really asks about it, except for my closest friends. People always say that diversity is important, but I wish we actually talked about what makes us different.”
Politics can also be a sensitive subject for religious students. Fanny, an evangelical student, recounts a conversation she had with her Catholic roommate about religion and its application to politics. “As soon as we began the subject, both of us glanced at the door, which was open. In a moment of unspoken agreement, I went over and closed the door.” Fanny thinks this incident sums up the challenging parts of being religious on campus. “For a university that champions free and open discourse, it is ironic that there are some opinions that just never make their way out of closed doors.”