‘Faithful Curiosity’ panel talks Christian life at NCF

By Jo Nguyen

New College, known for its predominantly liberal students, might seem to be a difficult place for students from Christian backgrounds, who tend to be more conservative. 

Members of the 'Faithful Curiosity' panel talk to New College students.
Members of the ‘Faithful Curiosity’ panel talk with students at an event sponsored by the New Life club.

But it’s also a place where students ask questions and learn from views that might challenge what they think. That’s why the college’s New Life club organized a “Faithful Curiosity” panel in November. 

As the club’s co-leader Alex Bottorff, a thesis student in chemistry, put it in his invitation: 

“What happens when four people with completely different backgrounds come together to answer questions about their faith?  … What role does faith play in an IT Analyst’s life?  …  How does one reconcile so easily with their education and faith?”

The panel – Gaby Elmir, a New College alumna and IB biology teacher; Chris Johnson, CEO at Suncoast Partnership to End Homelessness; Carla Johnson, who is married to Chris and has worked as an IT analyst; and Pastor Levi Laterreur – discussed those questions for an audience of club members and interested students. 

Much of the discussion was focused on the individual’s role in building one’s faith.

“I couldn’t do it by myself and I think we can get a sense of self-righteousness,” Laterreur said. “We tend to say ‘Look what I’ve done, look what I did’ and then look down on other people. But we can’t do it all by ourselves in the long haul.”

Speakers also addressed how to respond when people judge you for voicing a belief. 

“Choose love. Choose to be unified. It’s hard to take people’s judgements against you with a grain of salt but that’s a choice,” Elmir said. “Being able to say, ‘I don’t see it that way but I respect your opinion’ and that’s the liberty part, focusing on the things you do agree with and making sure that the liberty part doesn’t overshadow the unity part.”

Bottorff balances his religious beliefs with the social and political tensions at New College, and in his academics as a chemistry major.

“I reconcile the two because I see no other option,” he said. “When I look at the science behind what I read about in my references and other publications or behind my senior thesis, I run into the question: How could there not be an intelligence behind all of this? 

“I am consistently met with seeing my Creator in nature, in science, in the small details and the large,” Bottorff said. “I love the New College community and want to see it become what it could be, and I believe our group has a place in that process…. There are students who come to New College with a background in Christianity and want to find a community to be a part of, which is what we try to provide those students with.” 

— Jo Nguyen is a student writer with the New College Office of Communications and Marketing

Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 700 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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