May I walk you to class? Religion on the bridge

by Caitlin Anderson - University student

Cold, rainy March days are the bane of college studentsâÄô lives, especially for students who trek to and from class across the Washington Avenue Bridge several times a day. Thankfully, the covered walkway shelters students from the worst of the elements.
But today on my daily trek back from class, I entered the walkway and was surprised to hear singing and see a crowd of people about halfway across the bridge. Before long, a friendly looking young woman started walking next to me. She was carrying a stack of fliers.
I knew this could only mean one thing: She was either going to try to tell me about her cause, organization or religion, or ask me for money. She greeted me and asked me if she could walk me to class. Being cold, damp and in bit of a hurry, I was not really in the mood to chat. I smiled and asked as politely as I could what she was advocating.
She started to explain that she was from a Christian religious group on campus. I thanked her and said I wasnâÄôt interested. She said OK and turned her attention to other students. I assumed that was the end of it.
As I neared the middle of the bridge and the gathering of people, the words to the groupâÄôs song became clearer. It was a song of worship. People with literature were stopping or walking with students to explain their religious organization.
I donâÄôt particularly mind this. I try to respect people of all religions and belief systems, and while I view religion and spiritual beliefs as something personal, I donâÄôt mind it when people hand out fliers for religious organizations on campus in a low-pressure way, much like other causes do. As long as the advocates are respectful and donâÄôt push their views on you (and know when to stop talking), I donâÄôt have a problem with it. They have their beliefs, and I have mine; sharing opinions is what college is all about.
At the same time, I donâÄôt like those who attempt to shove their cause or beliefs down your throat. When someone does that, it shows they donâÄôt respect the beliefs and opinions of others.
In my mind, high-pressure advocacy falls into this category. I was deeply disappointed in the group on the bridge because, while the first person who walked with me was respectful, the group on the bridge was not.
They had oriented themselves in such a manner that those crossing the bridge had no choice but to walk in the alleyway they had created. Two lines of about 10 students each flanked either side of the bridge. One side was full of the musicians and singers, the other lined by people trying to hand out fliers.
Within 15 feet, they made three attempts to stop and talk to me and give me literature on this particular religious group. I continued to smile and shake my head to decline. But the last individual in the line, a tall male, leaned way out of the row and into the âÄúalleyâÄù in what appeared to be an attempt to impede my travel and get my attention.
I found this to be rude and an invasion of my personal space. Not only were these students forcing others to walk between them in an already reduced space, they were attempting to impede their progress and demand their attention. While these individuals were polite, I do not feel it was appropriate for them to impose on others in such a high-pressure way.
One of the great things about living in America is that we have the right to express ourselves and our opinions without fear of persecution. At the same time, however, we need to be cognizant of how the ways in which we express these opinions affect others. I am not condemning this group, nor am I condemning those who chose to express what they believe, but I would like to call into question the methods they used to do so.
I would advise the organization on the bridge to be more cognizant of others and more respectful in the manner in which they present themselves and their beliefs.