Gifty’s sophomore year at Harvard was very hard. She struggled to collaborate in her Integrated Science course and her participation grade struggled. Although she practiced things to say in class, she couldn’t bring herself to talk. Her lab partners, Yao, Molly, Zach, Anne, and Ernest, tended to exclude her. Zach was a goofball, and one day he joked about students on campus handing out small Bibles, claiming he’d taken one and then climbed onto a statue to shout, “GOD DOESN’T EXIST!”
Gifty struggled when asked to work with others, because she had trained herself not to need the help of other people. But she learned to overcome this in Integrated Sciences, in part because her lack of participation was interpreted as a lack of knowledge or intelligence by others, especially her male classmate Yao. What jolted her out of her silence was a challenge to the religious beliefs she had mostly—but not completely—given up by the time she got to college.
Gifty interrupted the group’s laughter to ask how they knew that God didn’t exist. Anne, whom Gifty likes for being the smartest one in the group, jumped on her. She said it wasn’t just ridiculous but dangerous to believe in God, pointing to religious wars and anti-LGBT laws. Gifty replied that “Belief can be powerful and intimate and transformative,” too, not just evil. But Anne retorted that religion is the “opiate of the masses.” After a tense moment, Yao brought their attention back to the project. Gifty wasn’t yet sure how she felt about her own faith, but she was protective of her mother’s. And after this outburst, she spoke up more in class.
Gifty’s college classmates represent a point of view that science and religion are completely opposed to each other. But because they’re just students, so much younger and less experienced than the adult Gifty who narrates the book, the story suggests that their belief in this division is likewise immature and incomplete. In class that day, Gifty tried to articulate this, but as an immature and somewhat inexperienced person herself, she’s not quite able to yet. Nevertheless, her defense of religious belief introduces her to Anne, the first truly intimate relationship she has after the death of her brother. Additionally, her defense of religion places her both in line with and opposed to her mother and is thus an important part of her growing sense of individuality. She no longer subscribes to Christianity as wholeheartedly as she did when she was a child, but she’s not willing to completely deny the importance and comfort of religion to her mother.