Hillsdale College put up a fence around the Quad over spring break, to mark the con­struction area for the Christ Chapel to protect people walking on campus. The fence will stand for two years. Nina Huffer | Collegian

The con­struction of Christ Chapel cost Hillsdale College the exor­bitant amount of $28.5 million, and incon­ve­nienced stu­dents by restricting their use of the quad. Yet what is most con­tro­versial about the Chapel is that “[it’s] location in the middle of every­thing is pro­foundly inten­tional.” The delib­erate location of a Christian symbol in the center of campus, as well as state­ments sup­porting the College’s “Christian identity,” make clear that the admin­is­tration desires Chris­tianity to become a more central tenet of the College. 

The College aims to enrich the com­munity through its actions, but will ulti­mately harm it by lim­iting thoughtful reli­gious dia­logue on campus. Therefore, Hillsdale College should end its reli­gious affil­i­ation because such an identity is coun­ter­pro­ductive to the goal of “pur­suing truth.”

The purpose of a college should be to provide the student with the means to attain knowledge, namely through the liberal arts. The liberal arts form the foun­dation of stu­dents’ edu­cation, binding them together through a common under­standing and freeing the mind and soul to allow for the cul­ti­vation of a vir­tuous life. Per the College’s mission statement, “The liberal arts are ded­i­cated to stim­u­lating stu­dents’ intel­lectual curiosity, to encour­aging the critical, well-dis­ci­plined mind, and to fos­tering per­sonal growth through aca­demic challenge.”

Hillsdale College’s clas­sical liberal arts cur­riculum is com­mendable pre­cisely because it enables the student to rise to self-gov­ernment and pursue truth. With a shared intel­lectual foun­dation, however, stu­dents will reach dif­ferent intel­lectual con­clu­sions; this includes con­clu­sions that do not align with the Christian faith. In this sense, the College should be inclusive of dif­fering intel­lectual con­clu­sions, while also fos­tering healthy dia­logue and debate over their veracity.

The College is gen­erally inclusive of non-Christian stu­dents and ded­i­cated to the ideal of reli­gious liberty; the College has admitted stu­dents of various reli­gious beliefs since its founding. Yet a vital aspect of a liberal edu­cation is intel­lectual dis­cussion among stu­dents, which encourages “the critical, well-dis­ci­plined mind” and “intel­lectual curiosity” among the student body. The estab­lishment of a Christian college identity runs coun­ter­pro­ductive to this ideal, in that the College will deter prospective stu­dents who are not Chris­tians, and thereby hinder intel­lectual dia­logue. When faced with the choice of attending a secular school and a Christian school, prospective stu­dents who do not adhere to the Christian faith will likely choose the former. With fewer non-Christian stu­dents on campus, intel­lectual reli­gious dia­logue will be limited to a majority Christian per­spective. Such a sce­nario is not con­ducive of “intel­lectual curiosity” or “the critical mind.”

The College should instead welcome greater reli­gious diversity, which will enrich intel­lectual reli­gious dis­cussion on campus. This is not an argument in favor of Affir­mative Action, where the College accepts stu­dents based on their eth­nicity or religion. However, the College should not form its identity in a way that will limit diversity. If the goal of the College is to provide a truly liberal edu­cation, then it should desire to produce dia­logue, not limit it. The best way to accom­plish this is to remove its reli­gious affil­i­ation, thereby fos­tering healthy reli­gious diversity and dia­logue on campus.

This alter­ation of a college’s identity is not in any way “anti-Christian,” but rather a change in favor of inclu­sivity and dis­cussion; any action meant to limit dia­logue at a college, including the exclusion of Christian belief from such dis­cussion, could not be further from the goal of a liberal edu­cation. Christian stu­dents, Christian pro­fessors, and even chapels exist on the cam­puses of secular colleges. 

The dif­ference, however, is that these col­leges do not promote a single faith. The Christian faith was, without question, a fun­da­mental part of Hillsdale College’s founding. Yet many secular liberal arts col­leges began as Christian schools, too. For instance, Oberlin College was founded by Pres­by­te­rians for the explicit purpose of pro­moting Christian lead­ership and prin­ciples; it became a secular insti­tution in 1964. Swarthmore College, founded as a Quaker insti­tution, offi­cially ended its reli­gious affil­i­ation in 1906. Denison Uni­versity was first estab­lished as a Baptist the­o­logical school, and sec­u­larized in the 1960s. St. John’s College, a school similar to Hillsdale College in its focus on the liberal arts and the Western tra­dition, was founded as a non-sec­tarian insti­tution in 1793. Similar examples are numerous.

The mission statement of Hillsdale College says that, “Hillsdale’s founders opened the doors to all, regardless of race or religion, in 1844.” But what purpose do open doors serve if the College per­suades those of dif­ferent beliefs not to enter? Iden­ti­fying as a Christian college will do just this, causing fewer non-Chris­tians to apply. Sec­u­lar­ization would be a rational solution to this issue. As an insti­tution without reli­gious affil­i­ation, the College could foster a more reli­giously diverse student body, thereby enriching the state of intel­lectual dia­logue on campus and fur­thering its goal of pur­suing truth.