Campus Activism: University of Windsor Convocation Prayer Replaced With Moment of Reflection
October 17, 2012Though the University of Windsor has Catholic roots, it is currently registered as a public university. When I completed my undergraduate degree and attended convocation in 2010, the convocation attendees were asked to stand and acknowledge God in the following prayer:
"Eternal God, the source of all goodness, discipline, and knowledge. We pray you to bless this assembly, gather to recognize achievement, and celebrate life. Bless this and all universities in their quest for excellence. Be with teachers and students everywhere. That an unending search for truth and justice may be awakened in them. Inspire all researchers, philosophers, and writers to provide resources for searching minds. Enable all who discern truth to make the wholeness of human kind their life's goal. Amen."
Reasoning for Activism
Asking students to stand in prayer is not inclusive of all students and does not respect diversity. I am an atheist, and I felt extremely excluded and uncomfortable when asked to stand in prayer at convocation. The prayer imposed ideals that do not fit with many non-religious and non-Catholic students. The University of Windsor is a public educational institution and is not responsible for validating Catholic beliefs over beliefs of others.
I submitted two emails to the University of Windsor regarding my concerns (once in 2010 and once in 2011) and did not receive a reply. With the assistance of several Windsor/Essex County Atheist Society club members, we prepared and submitted a third email in September 2012, suggesting that a moment of personal reflection replace the prayer. We asked a group prayer would no longer be dictated to us. During a moment of reflection, the convocation attendees could make their own decision as to whether they want to pray, reflect, think about people who helped them along the way, and/or remember their experiences at the University of Windsor. Within one month of submitting the email, I was informed that the email we sent was being discussed at the presidential level. Days later, it was announced that the convocation prayer would be permanently replaced by a moment of reflection:
"This day marks a new beginning, particularly for those about to celebrate their graduation. It is only fitting that we come together to recognize your achievements and commemorate your successes as you continue to your lifelong quest for knowledge and excellence. I ask that you take a moment to reflect on those who guided you along your path of learning, to appreciate our families, our teachers, our peers, the world in which we live, and all that inspires us."
The moment of reflection has been well-received by UWindsor students, staff, and convocation attendees, as can be seen in the video excerpt from the October 13, 2012 convocation—the first in which prayer was replaced with a moment of reflection.
However, it is not surprising that this topic has gained media attention.
- The Lance (University of Windsor's newspaper)
- The Windsor Star (Windsor's newspaper)
- Friendly Atheist
- Yahoo Canada News
- Windsor Area Rational Free-Thinker's League
As I browsed through the comments to the online news articles, three arguments were repeatedly presented by those in opposition to the change made by the university. Examples of these arguments are shown in direct quotes below and are followed by counter-arguments.
"So the atheists win again. Pathetic!"
The moment of reflection provides each individual with the space to be true to his or her own conscience. During this time, students may examine the many factors that have helped them in their achievement and consider such factors in a way that is personally meaningful. The moment of reflection is not necessarily a "win" for atheism; no atheist will be approaching the podium to present a statement about their lack of belief in God(s). The decision made by the University of Windsor is a win for secularism. Many religious and non-religious secularists posit that having God be acknowledged at a public university's convocation imposes theistic beliefs upon others who might lack a belief in God(s) or Goddess(es). The moment of reflection does not exclude anyone at all, as the absence of God's name does not impose anything upon anyone. It is not about who wants what; it's about which option infringes upon the rights of others and which option maintains neutrality. Secularism is not an opposition to religion; it simply advocates that politics, public policies, and public ceremonies do not give special treatment to any views about religion. Likewise, no religious group should impose religious law on a society.
"Prayer should be involved in the ritual. Why now has it changed, its been like that for how many years now?"... "I'm in utter shock and saddened how much of our Judeao-Christian heritage is being lost, and how much of our tradition as a nation is dissapearing to appease a miniority of the populace"
The statements above reflect an appeal to tradition. With our ever-changing, diverse student population, it is imperative that the University of Windsor continue its dedication to celebrating diversity. It can be difficult to engage in re-evaluating and changing long-standing traditions, but it is clearer than ever that this commitment to diversity from the university administration will bring about a wonderful addition to an already meaningful ceremony.
"when are we going to stop doing thiings for everyone else you are in OUR COUNTRY do it OUR way or don't come here"..."heaven forbid if we put a few immigrants noses out of joint because of our religious beliefs.HEY if you don't agree or don't like it here go back to the country you came from"... "To pacify atheists and ethnics, our universities have already played God by implementing "social engineering" and now ban prayer and God."
Asking non-Christians, for example, to accept things the way they are simply because it is preferred by the dominant group is an example of the "Tyranny of the Majority." If we were to only go along with the majority, that would be an appeal to popularity. What's the problem with simply appealing to popularity? Segregation and slavery were once widely accepted by the majority. The notion that women should not vote was once widely accepted by the majority. Just because something is popular does not make it correct or more acceptable. Secularism is about maintaining neutrality. When it comes to a nation of diverse beliefs, neutrality allows for greater inclusion of those who live in our multicultural country. It must be remembered that Canada is a cultural mosaic, not a melting pot. "Majority rules" can lead to an abuse of power, violating the basic and inalienable rights of the non-dominant groups. How much power should the majority have over the minority in the public realm? "Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner."
About the Author: Shawna ScottShawna Scott is a doctoral student at the University of Windsor who recently received her M.A. in Clinical Psychology. She is also the president of the Windsor/Essex County Atheist Society, which is a ratified student club with over 200 members.
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