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Now is the time to understand religious diversity and discrimination at Rice

By Elaine Ecklund     3/26/24 11:00pm

Editor’s Note: This is a guest opinion that has been submitted by a member of the Rice community. The views expressed in this opinion are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of the Thresher or its editorial board. All guest opinions are fact-checked to the best of our ability and edited for clarity and conciseness by Thresher editors.

Dear Rice University Students and Postdoctoral Fellows: 

I am writing to strongly urge you to participate in the  Boniuk Institute Survey of Religious Diversity at Rice. 

In the midst of a nationwide increase in religious discrimination and hostility, particularly following the events of Oct. 7 in Israel and ensuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, there is a need to examine how Rice University students have been impacted, how they are responding and the degree to which religious tolerance, religious accommodations, and perceptions of religious discrimination at Rice have changed. 

The Boniuk Institute for the Study and Advancement of Religious Tolerance at Rice University is currently surveying all Rice students and postdocs until March 29, 2024. This survey examines experiences of, and attitudes towards, religious tolerance and discrimination, and the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has had on the Rice student and postdoc community. 

Some things that are important to note: 1. The survey is being run by a non-partial entity. The Rice University administration has commissioned the Boniuk Institute to survey all Rice undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral fellows on the topics of religious discrimination and religious accommodation. They want to make sure that an entity distinct from the administration runs the survey. Issues of religion and non-religion have often been left out of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts on university campuses and we want to make sure Rice University thoughtfully approaches such issues. 

2. It’s important that we hear the voices of both religious and non-religious students. Whether you are religious or non-religious, you should participate. Given the current importance of these topics currently, it is critical that all students and postdocs at Rice have the opportunity to share their experiences. Participation in this survey is extremely valuable to Rice and will help us understand religious discrimination and needed religious accommodation on campus. Simply put, responses will have a direct impact on future Rice University policies.

3. Responses are completely anonymous. The responses to the survey will be completely anonymous and will never be connected to students in any way. All analysis and reporting will be conducted at the aggregate level, and the data will be stored securely and according to Rice’s data privacy policies. I am a sociologist who is an expert in surveying at- risk populations and Dr. Kerby Goff, who is working with me, is an expert in survey data analysis and de- identification. It’s important to stress that we will never have access to the names of those who completed the survey.  

4. We need data to respond with justice and effectiveness. Sometimes it’s the loudest voices who people assume are the most numerous. Even if you do not have strong opinions about religion, religious tolerance, or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, your participation is vital. Given the relevance of issues related to religious discrimination and accommodation, it’s important that everyone’s voice be counted. We cannot know what you think or what people like you think unless you fill out the survey. 

Research I have conducted with Christopher Scheitle and other colleagues reveals that, even before the crisis, Jewish and Muslim adults had greater fear of religious victimization than Christian adults. Antisemitism and Islamophobia in the US and globally have only continued to increase after the crisis

In addition to filling out the survey, please get involved in understanding religious discrimination and victimization, as well as the myriad political and religious factors influencing the crisis in the Middle East. Take relevant classes; attend university lectures; talk to those who have been personally influenced.  Many of you have been engaging already, but it’s more important than ever that we take the time to rise to our highest potential as a university, to engage the most difficult issues of our day with nuanced information and education that leads to thoughtful practice.  

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