Identity crisis

20 Nov 2020

I would have never thought that a single month could be so eventful and eventless at the same time. While I have been rotating the same three pullovers for the past four weeks, the news cycle has been rotating as well. Around vaccine hopes, anti mask demonstrations and this one infamous election. And after four years of his presidency, I finally found the one thing Donald Trump and I have in common: a certain refusal to leave the house momentarily.

Amidst all this, Radboud University has entered an identity crisis. Well, one could say, at least they are going with the vibe of the general student body. But this identity crisis has nothing to do with graduating students entering a very difficult job market. Or with first-year students trying to cope with isolation. And it, surprisingly, also doesn’t have anything to do with the recent sexual misconduct investigation in the Philosophy and Theology faculty.

Since late October, Radboud University is no longer a Catholic university. And if that news came as a surprise, you are not the only one. When I first read about Radboud’s loss of its Catholic designation, I turned to my boyfriend and asked: wait, I thought we weren’t Catholic anymore since the 1990s? But my own ignorance aside, some people have actually called this to be a crisis of the university’s identity. An identity that, following this, will enter an open discussion until 2023.

But what was the university’s Catholic identity to begin with? I found an answer in the interview of the university’s chaplain who summarized it as ’compassion, community, family.’ This identity is alleged to ’fade’ in the next years with the threat that ’we’ll be carrying out hard science here; there’ll be no heart in it anymore.’

It is noteworthy to point out that neither university financing nor the existence of the chaplaincy or the Catholic institutes and studies will be endangered. This discussion surrounding the crisis of identity is about identity only. Will Radboud lose its heart? Will we be less compassionate? Should we change our name and logo? Give me a break.

Compassion, community, and family have as much to do with Catholicism as with any other religious and non-religious affiliation. When I left the Lutheran church at eighteen, the municipality employee did not finish the appointment with ’So, Miss Leise, please leave your soul at the entrance.’ And I can assure you that my non-religious identity hasn’t made me immoral or less sincere in the work I do.

The mere suggestion that we are in an identity crisis because we lost Catholic affiliation is upsetting to me, because it suggests that some things – compassion, community, and family – are reserved for a Catholic university. And call me naive, but I always thought it was simply reserved for a decent one. Just as science with a heart is not a question of religion, but of humanity.

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