Students at a Texas college are demanding that their diplomas not be dated “in the year of Our Lord,” prompting school officials to consider removing that phrase while leaving what others consider another obvious reference to Christendom — the school’s name, Trinity University.
A spokeswoman for the private San Antonio school with historic ties to the Presbyterian Church said that if the board does make changes, it is more likely to take the phrase “in the year of Our Lord” off every diploma rather than just off those of specific students.
“I think they are going to go a step further,” said Sharon Jones Schweitzer, assistant vice president for university communications, because of the difficulty of providing custom diplomas and to guarantee the legitimacy of all of them.
A decision on the phrase is expected in May.
The debate began in the fall when some students noticed the wording and said it was intolerant of students with non-Christian religious beliefs.
Senior Sidra Qureshi, a Muslim student and president of Trinity Diversity Connection, started a petition that requested that students have the option of having the words removed from their diplomas.
Isaac Medina, a senior who graduated in December, told the San Antonio Express-News in March that he felt like “a victim of bait and switch” because he had applied to the university under the impression that it maintained only a historical bond to the Presbyterian Church.
“A diploma is a very personal item, and people want to proudly display it in their offices and homes,” Miss Qureshi told the Express-News. “By having the phrase ‘In the year of Our Lord,’ it is directly referencing Jesus Christ, and not everyone believes in Jesus Christ.”
As conversation on the issue intensified, the student government hosted a forum for students to voice their opinions. The school’s Association of Student Representatives recommended the option to the Trinity board of trustees.
Trinity University was founded in 1869. The school’s name and Latin motto, “E Tribus Unum” (from three, one), reflects the three locations the school occupied before moving to its current campus and also its historical Christian belief system.
The school became an independent, nonreligious university in 1969, when it signeda covenant agreementwith the Presbyterian Church (USA). The school has a chapel on the grounds, but students are not required to participate in religious practices or take religion courses.
Brendan McNamara, president of College Republicans at Trinity, argued that the wording should remain on the diploma for traditional and multicultural reasons.
“The fact that we have a chapel on campus, a Bible on our seal, a reverend, and a Christian reference in our name makes the argument that students were a victim of ‘bait and switch’ rather silly,” he said in an e-mail.
To represent students in opposition to the change, Mr. McNamara last week addressed the Committee on Church Relations and Religious Life, which has been researching the issue to present it to the board of trustees.
“If we jump every time someone disagrees with a tradition, then we cheapen our history, and we cheapen who we are. We have to remember one thing. This isn’t the student’s diploma. This piece of paper isn’t supposed to reflect who we are individually. This is the university’s diploma, which they bestow upon us, and it reflects who they are,” he told the committee.