2019 by the numbers: Keeping faith at Yale

2019 by the numbers:
Keeping faith at Yale

Published on September 2, 2015

On Saturday morning, two groups of more than 600 freshmen each were ushered into a sunlit Woolsey Hall by the deep tones of an organ playing, among other pieces, Maurice Durufle’s “Fugue on the Soissons Cathedral Bell Theme.” The program went on to include a hymn, “Oh God, beneath Thy Guiding Hand,” and concluded with a benediction by University Chaplain Sharon Kugler.

Each year, the rich chords of religious music and the holy verses of religious rhetoric welcome the incoming class at the Freshman Assembly. For some students, these traditions make the event a familiar, comforting opening to the year, facilitating their transition into a new environment by providing continuity. Still, for some, the prominence of faith is jarring, or even inappropriate amid the University’s non-religious mission and diverse student body.

Many describe Yale, for better or for worse, as a secular campus. Indeed, 44 percent of survey respondents identified as atheist, agnostic or non-religious.

But those students who did identify with a particular cultural background, be it religious or ethnic, separated themselves from the rest of the class before even stepping foot on campus, demonstrating certain social and extracurricular preferences accordingly.

Question: Which of the following religions do you observe or practice, if any?

(Amanda Mei)


David Schwartz ’19 was still settling into his room in Vanderbilt Hall on Friday when leaders from Yale Hillel arrived at his door to welcome him to campus and invite him to Friday’s Shabbat dinner. Hillel was not the only organization to make early moves — upperclassmen from several religious and cultural groups visited freshman dorms last weekend, carrying gifts like candy and portable phone chargers in hand.

Schwartz, a Conservative Jew, said he is interested in joining the Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, and he is enthusiastic about competing with the Yale Undergraduate Rover Association as well. But while he expects to be involved in some capacity with the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale, he added that he is not as sure yet what form that involvement will take.

His uncertainty resonates with many other religious freshmen on campus. Though 56 percent of students identified as religious, only 32 percent of them reported plans to join a faith-based organization on campus. Many students interviewed said they plan to attend services without participating actively in faith-based communities.

Still, for some students, involvement is a certainty, though responses varied across religions. Of the 169 students who identify as Protestant, 68 said they plan to be involved in a Christian student group; 35 percent of Muslim students said the same for the relevant Yale organizations. Meanwhile, only 8 percent of Hindu students and no Buddhist students indicated such an interest.

In comparison, each of Yale’s cultural centers drew high interest from ethnic students within the freshman class: 71 percent of all self-identified minority students said they planned to have some engagement withtheir respective cultural house.

Seventy-seven percent of African-American survey respondents plan to get involved with the Afro-American Cultural Center, while 51 percent of Asian students expressed interest in the Asian American Cultural Center and 45 percent of Hispanic students plan to be a part of La Casa’s community. Four of 15 Native American respondents said they planned to get involved in the Native American Cultural Center.

Some students have already taken steps in this direction. Nicole Chavez ’19, who is Hispanic, said she knew she wanted to be involved with La Casa before many of her classmates had even set foot in the center’s facility. During her time at the pre-orientation program Cultural Connections, Chavez learned about the cultural centers’ difficulties with funding and physical space.

“Within a few years, a lot of substantial change will be going on with the new heads being appointed, and with the focus students put on it last year,” Chavez said. “It’s definitely something I want to be a part of.”

Question: What type(s) of extracurricular group(s) do you plan to join? Please select all that apply.

(Amanda Mei)


In response to a News survey question about what made them most anxious about coming to Yale, one freshman simply replied “loneliness.”

The student, a Protestant Christian, was, in fact, not alone in feeling this way. Religious students were more likely to say they felt anxious about their social experiences at Yale, with many identifying the party scene as a point of concern, specifically citing a general incompatibility between faith and the typical pillars of a college party scene: sex, drugs and alcohol.

Students interested in engaging with a religious group at Yale already demonstrated that their views may differ from the rest of their class. Seventy-eight percent of freshmen interested in joining a religious organization said they have not ever had sex, compared to 64 percent across the whole class. In terms of anticipating a sexual relationship, the divide continues. Forty-three percent of students interested in joining a religious organization on campus said they do not anticipate having sexual intercourse at all in college, with an additional 24 percent saying they were unsure. In contrast, 54 percent of total respondents said they anticipate having sex over the next four years.

But within the religious demographic of 2019, there existed some discrepancies among different faiths. Jewish students, for example, said they anticipate having sexual intercourse in college at a higher rate than any other religious group on campus, with 76 percent of the Jewish freshmen class responding affirmatively. Only two percent said they definitely do not anticipate doing so. Conversely, Muslim and Hindu students were more likely to say they were going to abstain from sex during college, at 55 and 54 percent. Christian denominations were collectively the most uncertain: 30 percent said they were “unsure” as to whether or not they would have sexual intercourse in college — the highest such rate for any demographic.

While religious students were less likely to anticipate having a sexual experience in college, they were just as likely as the rest of their class to anticipate being in a romantic relationship. However, these relationships were most likely to be heterosexual. Only eight percent of the incoming Christian class did not identify as heterosexual, compared to 20 percent of the agnostic, atheist or non-religious students.

Politically, 87 percent of those who said they were “very conservative” also identified as Christian. “Somewhat liberal” students — the largest political contingent within the class — showed no distinct affiliation to any one religious group.

In addition to fostering diversity within the freshman class, these important cultural distinctions appear to set certain freshmen on different paths throughout Yale.


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About the series

On Aug. 12, the News sent all incoming freshmen a survey with questions running the gamut from family life to post-graduate plans. This is a four-part series on the results.