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Feature Story
reed magazine logoSpring 2008

“Instead, on day three, I found out religion is a big deal,” she says. Students from Reed’s Christian group, Oh For Christ’s Sake, had come to her office complaining of having to keep their faith “in the closet.” While the Reed community seemed accepting in general, religious students—mainly Christian ones—reported having a tougher time.

On the Sunday after a “rainy and gross” Renn Fayre, Madeline Klink ’08
recalls that “golden light was coming through the window.” Freshly sober and happy to be alive, she grabbed her Bible and walked onto the front lawn to satisfy her urge to read the book of Mark. That was when she experienced her conversion to Christianity. “It was the very defining hour that I felt there is a God out there who looks out for all of us.”

“My concern was that these students were suppressing some aspect of themselves,” says Moore. When it came to religion, she witnessed normally tolerant Reedies “insulting each other’s intelligence.”

Reed President Colin Diver, a devout Episcopalian, says he noticed the same thing when he arrived at Reed six years ago. During Renn Fayre, he was offended by a student skit about the sex life of Jesus. While he wasn’t shocked, he says, “it was the kind of thing that would drive a true believer nuts.” It wasn’t the satire itself that bothered him so much as what he perceived as a double standard: “making fun of Christ and Christianity is fair game here, while other things are not.”

Like Moore, Diver feels religious students should be as comfortable at Reed as their nonreligious peers. He also thinks spiritual nourishment would be a boon to students’ overall well-being. “We’re not brains on a stick,” he says. And during Diver’s presidency, the college has initiated efforts to support students’ faith. In 2006, an outside consultant interviewed a group of Reed students as part of a “spiritual listening project” that tried to gauge the spiritual needs and aspirations of the student body.

Diver calls the pace of change incremental. He doubts there will be a chaplain or similar position on the Reed campus any time soon. But he doesn’t consider the prospect out of the question. “I think we’d be better for it,” he says. “Many schools are perfectly secular and have some kind of chaplaincy.” For instance, Divers’ alma mater, Amherst College, has various religious advisers on staff to minister to Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Buddhist, and Jewish students. “It would be good for us to at least entertain that option,” Diver says, “but I think there’d be a lot of resistance to that at the present time.”

Diver interprets Amanda Reed’s will—which declared that the institution would be “nonsectarian”—to mean that Reed should not establish, promote, or support any one sect or religion. What it doesn’t mean to him is that the college should be hostile to religion, or that it shouldn’t protect students’ right to freely exercise their religious beliefs.

reed magazine logoSpring 2008