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Coalition Against Religious Exclusion encourages diversity, pluralism

Published: Monday, February 4, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 4, 2013 12:02

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Courtesy Kumar Ramanathan

Senior Brandon Archambault promotes CARE’s pluralistic beliefs at a December Senate meeting discussing the CSL ruling.

As dialogue surrounding the Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF) and its controversial leadership requirements intensified last semester, the Coalition Against Religious Exclusion (CARE) entered the forefront of the debate. 

CARE, originally founded last spring with a focus on TCF, has most recently spent its efforts opposing the Committee on Student Life’s (CSL) decision to let Student Religious Groups (SRGs) apply for exemption from the university’s non-discrimination policy.

According to senior Stephen Goeman, the group’s sharp focus on the CSL decision is a newer development for the group. Senior Brandon Archambault and Goeman founded CARE last year to inform the greater Tufts community about TCF’s requiring its leaders to hold certain religious beliefs.

“It was a group of concerned students who didn’t like that you could get TCU funding to essentially pay for other students’ discrimination,” Goeman said. “We wanted people to know that it was really easy in practice to sidestep the non-discrimination policy that was set forth in documents like the Pachyderm and TCU requirements.”

According to founding CARE member Duncan Maclaury, a senior, the group worked to be the informative voice behind the TCF complaint and past complaints made against the group. 

Goeman explained that Archambault’s critical role in the group came about as a result of his own religious identity. As an evangelical Christian, Archambault was upset that students were being excluded from religious communities due to their identities.

Like Archambault, many of CARE’s members have found that the group’s mission of religious inclusion resonates with their own religious identities and experiences. Senior Martine Kaplan reflected on her negative experiences attending a religious private school.

“I went to a Jewish school for 13 years of my life and their [focus] was being pluralistic, but I never came out in that environment because I felt like it wasn’t actually a safe space,” Kaplan said. 

She recalled how the more intensely religious students reacted negatively to less-religious students at her school, which made her less interested in being religious herself. While Kaplan maintains that she is not interested in joining a religious group on campus herself, she wants them to remain safe spaces for those who seek them out.

“You can come together and you can have dialogue, and at the end of the day your community is stronger for it,” she said.

Junior Walker Bristol came to CARE after much spiritual change of his own. At a young age, Bristol attended a Quaker school, but later on he received more exposure to increasingly conservative branches of Christianity because of his North Carolina upbringing.

Today, Bristol identifies as a non-theist Quaker, saying that he recently returned to the tenets of Quakerism after finding that it aligned well with his personal values. As the president of Tufts Freethought Society, a group dedicated to atheist discourse, Bristol said that rejecting the CSL ruling became important to him.

“Because I’m a non-theist Quaker, there’s a good chance that under this policy I could have been prevented from being the leader of Tufts Freethought,” Bristol said, reflecting on Tufts Freethought’s openness to people who self-identify with a religion despite the group’s overall atheist approach. He added that it’s important for students to be able to explore their religious identities on campus.

“There are plenty of student religious groups on campus that function in very different ways than you would think of that particular religion,” Bristol said. “For example, there are people on the board of [the Catholic Community at Tufts] who are queer, and that might not be accepted in every Catholic community around the world.”

Junior Jordan Dashow said he also appreciated the freedom afforded by other religious groups on campus, adding that his experiences with Tufts Hillel afforded him the opportunity to explore his religious identity.

“As someone who identifies as queer and Jewish, I’ve always felt accepted at Tufts Hillel,” Dashow said. “All in all, Hillel is a pluralistic organization that really does strive to create as inclusive an environment as possible. As a religious group, we’ve had non-Jews on board through the plurality, and that pluralism is important to us.”

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