Judaism, identity, college admissions

By Sydney Tischler, Senior, John Burroughs School

For seniors in high school, right now can be a crazy time. With early decision deadlines looming, school work in full swing, and friendships and family relationships to maintain, fall of senior year is notoriously stressful. Jewish students have another layer of stress to deal with: It is easy to feel like a commodity or marginalized because of our religion. 
Personally, a strong Jewish community has not been the top priority throughout my college search. However, the vast majority of conversations I have had about my top schools have involved my Jewish identity, though they have not been initiated by me. From chats about Hillel to pamphlets about scholarships specifically for Judaic Studies majors, I have had a hard time distinguishing flattery from microaggression. Most of these conversations have been with adults well-versed in the college process. 
I want to believe it’s all a compliment, that everyone means well in his or her interest in the way my college experience converges with my Judaism. But sometimes I can’t help but wonder if students from other minority groups, and even other Jewish students, experience the same phenomenon. 
I often question whether my college application is looked at differently based on the box I check under the “religion” category. Am I a commodity, admitted to bump up a percentage on the university website? Or am I being directly compared to my Jewish peers based solely on the principle that we are all Jewish? Would it behoove me to leave my religion off of the application? Or should I put it on, in hopes that it will help me?
Why are Jewish college applicants being forced to answer these questions? Are they?  Aren’t these optional? We have been backed into a corner, faced with our religious identity, coerced into deciding whether it is a friend or a foe. 
Under no circumstances should any student be shamed for his or her religion. However, when applying to college, it’s not about outright shame. It’s the little comments, often rooted in stereotypes, which make me question the way my religion fits into the big, stressful puzzle that is college applications. I never want to feel the need to suppress my Jewish identity, or even feel “token-ized” because of my pride in my religion. However, I don’t want to wonder if my religion is impeding or advancing my acceptance (or rejection) into college.