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The Forum

Thoughts about Religious Expression at Paideia

Paideia community members recently gathered to celebrate Holi, a Hindu festival.

Unlike many of its private school peers, Paideia has a secular foundation and holds a largely agnostic student body—with 69 percent of students responding to a recent Forum poll describing themselves as “non-religious/spiritual.”

Oman Frame, Paideia’s Director of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB), shares how Paideia’s DEIB work strives to “emphasize inclusivity for everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs, or lack thereof.” This work includes “encouraging students to bring their whole selves, including their faith” by “creating a space for open and curious learning about religion, not judgment.”

For many atheists, like Omair Farooqui ’24, Paideia fosters an environment where they can express their beliefs without fear of judgment. Oftentimes, this culture manifests itself in how, Farooqui says, “being at Paideia has never made me think about religion that much.”

Religious students’ experiences around their religious expression and confidence at Paideia vary. Noor Malik ’24 mentions how much more comfortable she is at Paideia as a Muslim compared to her old school in Ohio, citing her experiences breaking Ramadan at international night and the newly-founded Islamic Heritage Club.

Josh Whitehead ’24 similarly explains how Paideia has encouraged him to represent his Jewish faith through student initiatives, which have made him “comfortable leading and sharing my religion in my own unique way that I think is much more powerful and beneficial.”

Although there are few Bahá’í on campus, Paideia alum Bahiyyih Grant ’23 shares that she felt genuine interest to learn about her beliefs, whether asking questions or coming to Bahá’í events, which helped her feel “coherence between my life at school and in the Bahá’í community.

Others’ religious experiences at Paideia have been different. Anna Chance ’24 shares how she started questioning her Christian beliefs after coming to Paideia in fourth grade and that it “took a while for me to get back to what I was comfortable with.” For example, Chance recalls “a feeling from lower-level science classes of almost feeling ashamed for believing what I do.”

May Seydel ’25 shares a similar experience: “I’ve never really been outwardly Christian until recently … I used to not tell people about it since I was embarrassed by it.”

Karis Williams ’25, one of the leaders of the Bible Study Club, mentions how many jokes she hears about God because “it has been so normalized in our society to mock God and Jesus.”

Chance and Seydel both mention generalizations and are prominent in their experiences. Chance mentions her frustration when “people judge solely off of religion without thinking about context or considerations … At Paideia, people can be lumped into specific ideas about what a certain religion stands for.”

For all its flaws, Seydel admits that she still believes that “Paideia is a great place to be whatever you are … You can wake up and go to school and be whoever you want to be, and people aren’t going to hold something against you.”

Frame mentions current efforts to incorporate religious holidays into the school calendar and curriculum and emphasizes that Paideia’s DEI efforts are on the right track but still have room to “improve how we weave religious inclusion into the school experience.” He notes how Paideia can still “integrate religious diversity into school programs better” and how essential it is to ensure a “balanced representation of various faiths.”

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