Seeing the canvas through the eyes of the painter: The experience of secular Jewish college students
Grande, Steven E
McEwen, Marylu K
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This hermeneutic phenomenological study is concerned with understanding authentic Being and our experience of the Other within the context of higher education. By engaging phenomenologically with college students in the process of becoming secular Jews, I revealed the phenomenon of secular Jewish being. I had twenty-six conversations with seven studentsmy co-travelersat a mid-size, public university in the mid-Atlantic. My co-travelers expended substantial energy considering what it meant to see as a Jew, to be seen as a Jew, and what it was like to see their own Jewishness. My co-travelers found that their metaphorical Jewish canvas was elusive and paradoxical. They experienced a campus environment that felt out-of-control to them due to the overwhelming presence of Christianity. Whether it was experiencing overt celebrations of Christmas, anti-Semitic remarks, or just an uncomfortable reaction from a peer, my co-travelers doubted whether they mattered as Jews. Consequently they reworked their Jewish canvas to make it more appealing to the dominant White, Christian culture. Furthermore, my co-travelers experienced the existential dilemma of discovering that they could choose what kind of Jew to become. Realizing they had choices revealed how the seemingly immutable aspects of their Jewishness were actually constructed. Ultimately my co-travelers determined that they would need to re-interpret their religious inheritance to become the kind of Jew they aspired to be. This research journey enhanced my appreciation for the transformative power of phenomenological listening and the tension between <i>being</i> and <i>doing</i> in student affairs. Facing anti-Semitism and a lack of understanding and openness to the experience of secular Jewishness kept my co-travelers from making meaning and fully engaging in the campus. How do student affairs professionals balance the many demands of our work while creating meaning making environments where students can uncover their authentic Being? The experience of my co-travelers suggests answering this question by increasing the emphasis on the beings of our students and our selves.