Editorial #3 – Getting preachy

As an Atheist, raised Presbyterian, I’ve always wondered: why in God’s name do I know the Hail Mary?

Let me begin with a clarification: I have no problem with religious people. Churches can be beautiful works of architecture, and they contain some of the world’s artistic masterpieces.

Religious-run charities account for a significant portion of aid in developing nations – albeit sometimes with strings attached – and they do a lot of good here at home too. However, the Church’s presence on campus is more of a throwback to the school’s roots than a reflection of the current spirituality – we are essentially a secular university stuck with a Catholic name.

Small-town Nova Scotia isn’t exactly the epicenter of the counter-culture. This is a traditional county, and the very presence of Antigonish is due in no small part to St. Ninian’s Cathedral.

However, the cross perched on top of the brand-new science building is taking it a little far, and is just one example of the outdated presence of religion on campus.

The chapel plunked in the middle of campus doesn’t help, either.

During my frosh week Welcoming ceremony it was described as being officially “nondenominational,” but at the end of the day (well, week) the chapel holds Mass, not Shabbat. A Catholic priest, Father Danny, runs these services.

Our school pays for the existence of his position as chaplain, complete with office space in the Bloomfield Centre. What a waste of money? Not exactly; Father Danny makes himself available to all students, and not just for religious council – he acts as a councilor to any students in need, regardless of beliefs or lack thereof.

However, we have paid secular councilors working at the Health Centre as well.

Looking through the list of bursaries the Financial Aid Office showcases, this special treatment of Catholics is also evident: 18 bursaries have preference for Catholics (some insist on the recipient being Catholic or planning on entering the priesthood, while others are specifically for members of a particular church), while just 21 bursaries are reserved for students from any particular program of study.

It isn’t that the religious presence on campus hinders discussion or debate about issues loaded with religious doctrine.

The Catholic community doesn’t protest during Pride Week, or circulate petitions urging the removal of birth control from the health centre.

As a school, however, it is up to us to decide if we are Catholic in name only; and if so, what does that mean for the image of St Francis Xavier University?

University of Antigonish doesn’t quite have that Ring to it (it doesn’t even have an X), but if StFX is truly secular, and the former convent is now a co-ed residence, why do we have a saint’s statue outside the chapel?

Personally, I didn’t hang on to my nondenominational prayer book.

Editorial #1 – The Antigonish Bubble and the Death of Student Activism

“If it didn’t work for the USSR, why would it work for Bishops?”

I was so proud of that slogan on my sign, and of being a part of a greater cause; that is, trying to prevent the amalgamation of Burke, Fraser and Plessis into one house back in my first year. About three hundred students showed up in their house shirts or painted with their house colours outside the Residence office. We hoisted signs and banners and chanted all afternoon, and to our everlasting pride, it worked.

Then, last year, the only other protest I have seen in three years: the president of TNT was removed for pissing off the wrong girl, and a couple hundred of her closest friends rallied to her aid in the form of a march protesting some aspects of the Community Code.

Notice a pattern? As long as the cause is close enough to home that it leaves the toilet seat up, our campus community is more than happy to throw down and hoist a placard. As long as the cause is completely non-polarizing, clear-cut, and requires no real discussion, St. FX students will chant themselves hoarse. We are simply perpetuating the image of modern students as mindless sheep who are here to drink, study and screw, then hit up mom and dad for a spring break trip to Cuba, without regard for broader matters.

What happened? Students used to be the leaders of social change. Student activism played a major part in the civil rights movement, gender and sexuality equality, raising consciousness about human rights abuses and unjust wars around the world, and debating policy here at home. Now the only thing that can light a fire under our asses is a bad judgment from the Res office.

This is not to say that no one is doing anything at this school to enact social change. There are a number of activist societies, such as the Aboriginal Society, the Amnesty International Society, and Breaking the Silence – and that’s not even getting past the B’s. Those societies and others further down the alphabet are run by energetic, passionate people who are doing their best to raise awareness and funds to fight for what they believe in. The problem isn’t a lack of causes; it’s a lack of people willing to get involved, make some time, and put themselves on the line.

I used to think of the Antigonish “bubble” phenomenon, in which St. FX students have no notion of the outside world for 8 months of the year, as a cute, harmless little quirk of going to school here. But the bubble is insidious. It represents complete detachment from what is important to the rest of the world; not just out of ignorance, but more from apathy and from sluggishness. The most urgent issue I heard last year from most students here was that drinks had gone up in price across the province.

There are a lot of ways to get involved. Join a society (society night is coming up this month), watch for flyers regarding speakers, conferences and discussions – no matter what side of the debate you find yourself on – and generally keep informed. As frosh, it is way too easy to slip inside the bubble and not emerge until you have your x-ring on. If you allow yourself to fall into complacency and lose touch with the world, you will be forgetting why you are really here and you could easily miss out on a huge part of university life.