Deerfield has always placed an emphasis on inclusion, diversity, and acceptance within its community. However, as we continue to talk about gender, cultural, and racial issues, something is missing from our conversation: the inclusion of religion.
Religious inclusion is absent from the mission statement of the Office for Inclusion and Community life, which encourages “acceptance and understanding of differences pertaining to race, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, geographical origin, and sexual orientation at all institutional levels.” This lack of inclusion is also reflected in various Deerfield traditions.
As a nonsectarian school, Deerfield does not have any affiliation with a particular religion. However, traditions such as Convocation, Baccalaureate, and the saying of grace at sit-down meals impose the Christian faith onto the community and are exclusive towards those who are affiliated with other religions or choose not to practice religion.
When members of the community come together for Convocation at the beginning of the school year, the program bears a resemblance to a Christian service. The choice to use the words “invocation” and “benediction,” which are often used in reference to a Christian act, implies the religious nature of the meeting. Additionally, the processional and recessional of the faculty at the beginning and the ending of the ceremony mimic the clergy entering and exiting a service. Later, the Convocation Address from the guest speaker replaces a traditional sermon and the Deerfield Evensong replaces Christian hymns. Other than reading from scripture or the mention of God, Deerfield’s Convocation almost replicates a church service in its entirety.
At the end of the school year, the tradition of holding Baccalaureate shares many of the same aspects as Convocation; in fact, it seems to have even more religious connotations with the inclusion of Christian hymns and location at the church.
There is another tradition that is more prevalent in the everyday life of students and faculty. Almost every day of the week, we enjoy at least one family style sit-down meal. This tradition fosters opportunities for members of the community to connect with one another. At the beginning of each meal, the saying of grace, which concludes with “Amen,” is stated on behalf of the whole community.
However, this expression of gratitude does not apply to everyone. I remember the first time I heard Mr. Kelly say grace and suddenly felt like I was taking part in a religious practice in which I do not believe. When the words “we give thanks” boomed from the speakers, I felt forced into a religious practice that was never my own. Somehow, being included in the saying of grace took away my freedom to choose what I believe in.
Though I agree that it is important to be grateful for what we have, there is no need to recite a prayer. Rather, the school can explore other expressions of gratitude which would include everyone. Instead of saying grace before sit-down, we can take a moment to reflect on how fortunate we are to have food and know that not everyone shares this privilege.
Deerfield has already begun its efforts in educating the community on understanding and tolerating difference. To take this initiative further, it is important that we include all religious or ideological affiliations that exist within this diverse community. This is not hard to accomplish. We can continue to gather as a group in a different format and without the use of words such as “baccalaureate.” We can still express gratitude for the food on the table without using a prayer. These changes are not radical, yet they go a long way in ensuring everyone feels comfortable with what they believe.