Today is the nicest weather we have had in weeks. Maybe it has something to do with Campus Preview Week-end. We are entertaining over 1000 admitted students and their parents. There are over 300 events planned during the next few days and if past history is a guide, many if not most of these students will conclude that MIT is the place for them.
Late in March we entertained Jenny Small about her doctoral dissertation at Michigan where she looked at College Student Religious Affiliation and Spiritual Identity. The chaplains serving MIT talked with her about her work and results. She has done some good work that can inform our varied ministries here at MIT.
Jenny noted early in her research that the model for faith development among college and university students was primarily based on research done among white Christians. Her questions began there as she sought to tease out what it meant to have a religious or spiritual identity in college/university. It became clear to her early that faith matters and as she looked as Christians, Jews, Muslims and non-believers. She noted the evolution of increasingly more complex thought about religious/spiritual matters. Early on groups understand their place in the hierarchy of religious/spiritual organizations. For example Jews know early they are a minority; Muslims understand they are "other" and Christians carry the burden of being entitled. Non-believers feel themselves to be really on the fringes. In some ways the outsiders are clearer about their self-identity than the Christians who often know only that they are in the majority, but have little sense of why or what that means. This is a bit odd given the rhetoric we sometimes hear about the threats to Christianity perceived by some true believers.
As the Chaplains know, the MIT experience modifies these perceptions and if our endeavors do their work, the students graduate as thoughtful, grounded young adults who know better who they are and where they stand. I look forward to seeing Jenny's work in print and to the ongoing conversation it should precipitate.
This week-end we will see some of our students at the very beginning of their journey and it is good to remember that it is a journey they are beginning. They are growing quickly and we are blessed to be part of that process.
Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute