The Urban Legend

The School Newspaper of Urban School of San Francisco

The Urban Legend

The School Newspaper of Urban School of San Francisco

The Urban Legend

    What it’s like to be religious at Urban

    In an anonymous 2022 survey of affinity spaces conducted by Urban’s Equity, Inclusion & Belonging office, religion ranked as one of the topics Urban students found most difficult to talk about.

    “I definitely find it difficult to talk about and express my religion,” said Aidan Somaini ‘24, who identifies as Catholic. “In a space like Urban, where a lot of … people want to seem progressive, people look down on religion. It’s easy to look down on Catholicism and religion more generally from a progressive perspective. And that’s just wrong.”

    Some students are not comfortable openly expressing their religious identity because of stereotypes associated with their beliefs. 

    “I think at Urban, it’s easy to fall into categories. I feel like some [people think] it’s easier to understand people through a category. [But] I don’t want to be seen as, ‘Oh, he’s just a Catholic, and he agrees with everything the Catholic church does,’” said Somaini.

    Asher Ballon ‘25, who identifies as Jewish, said, “Right now I feel like every time I talk about religion and Judaism … [people think] I’m trying to talk about politics. I wish that those were more separate. It’s not realistic to have them be completely separate, but I don’t like that I can’t talk about religion without it being politicized.”

    Nobu Nitta-Mack ‘24, who identifies as Catholic, regularly attends Sunday Mass at St. Agnes Catholic Church. “Religion is the foundation of my life,” he said. “Following Jesus is the foundation of my life. But when religion comes up [at school], it feels disrespected.”

    Dean Equity, Inclusion & Belonging Jason Ernest Feldman emphasized that Urban’s goal is for every student to feel accepted. “We want [an environment where] everyone can come to Urban and be who they are. Affinity spaces, MultiCulti, and focus groups …  will be a big part of figuring out how to make folks feel more comfortable [with expressing religious beliefs] going forward.”

    Feldman brought up the importance of understanding Urban within the context of San Francisco. “San Francisco is definitely less religious than [somewhere like] Massachusetts, where I grew up. Whether it’s a California thing or an Urban thing, I don’t see as many expressions of religious identity as I’ve seen in other places.”

    According to the U.S. Religious Census — which is unaffiliated with the federal census — 45% of San Francisco residents self-identified as religious in 2022, which is significantly less than the national average. According to the Public Religion Research Institute, less than four in 10 Americans (38%) identified as religiously unaffiliated in 2022. 

    “Even though San Francisco is pretty progressive [and] more atheist than other places, I’ve never felt any judgment as a Catholic in San Francisco,” said Nitta-Mack. “I think the problem is that Urban is much younger, and much further to the left. And that’s great, but those aren’t demographics that have historically been very friendly to religion.”

    Some students don’t speak up because they have a fear of being marginalized or judged.

    “There is underlying judgment and criticism you feel when you have a conversation about [religion]. I’m a Christian, I’m a follower of Christ. I don’t want to deny that, but I don’t want to be judged either. So I don’t bring it up that often,” said Nitta-Mack.

    Feldman, Somaini and Nitta-Mack agree that for Urban to be more welcoming to students of faith, major cultural shifts must happen. 

    “When people ask me about religion … I rarely feel like it comes from a place of wanting to understand,” said Somaini. “It’s more, ‘Is he going to be cool about it or is he going to be one of the weird ones?’ That’s not a good environment for discussions to happen.”

    “Every single space you walk into has a normative culture,” said Feldman. “If the normative culture at Urban makes folks feel like they can’t bring their religious or spiritual practices in, then the normative culture has to change. How much space should we create for religion and how should we do that? We have to answer that together as a community.”

    About the Contributor
    Isaac Hoffman
    Isaac Hoffman, Staff Writer