What Are Campus Religious & Secular Groups Doing?
The Covid-19 pandemic has altered the landscape of higher education. Campus closures across the nation have not only impacted the academic endeavors of students and educators, but it also shifted their sense of community and, for many, spiritual home. As campuses grapple to achieve their missions during crisis, they have been navigating the digital space with online classes and platforms to build, connect and reconnect communities of diverse interests.
Amid this space-shifting, information sharing isn’t quite as organic – there are no informal conversations while passing in the cafeteria, and one cannot happen upon a flier in the library. Even if we could – the levels of stress and anxiety right now are high, shared not just by students but by all of us. So, we wanted to share with you a few of the ways religious and spiritual organizations are offering support for students to stay connected with their faith communities online. We tapped into our network to speak with national level religious organizations like Hillel, InterVarsity and Secular Student Alliance as well as campus based religious, spiritual and secular groups to compile a list of resources that are available for students.
It is important to note that campus-based groups that are not affiliated with national associations are likely reaching out to members in powerful ways—they are simply less centralized. Campus based student groups’ membership will likely ebb and flow, as all student groups do, depending on interest in any given year. Given the massive change being experienced right now by students and faculty, who often serve as advisors, it may be more difficult for these non-national groups to continue to connect. At the same time, many religious minority faculty and staff on campus are reaching out to the students they have relationships with, in order to be an additional resource right now. This list is not exhaustive – if you are curious about other resources, we encourage you to reach out to your campus religious life or student engagement staff, or IFYC.
College Buddhist groups tend to be unaffiliated across different campuses and not supported by a national organization. Some are student led, others have a faculty advisor and some are staffed by a Buddhist Advisor or Chaplain. As such, the shift to remote offerings will vary, though likely have similarities. At Amherst College, the Buddhist Advisor has moved weekly meditation and discussion to Zoom and remains available for one on one spiritual counseling. They’re also directing students to online guided meditations (amherst.edu/go/mindfulness). More broadly, Insight Timer and dharmaseed.org have thousands of free Dharma talks and guided meditations.
At many Catholic colleges or universities, religious, and spiritual support continues to be an ongoing feature of community life—albeit online. Whether through a daily e-mail with religious inspiration sent to students and faculty, continuing to promote (now virtual) service and volunteerism at the University of the Incarnate Word, or streaming religious services, campuses are staying connected with their community. For Catholic students on non-Catholic campuses, a similar set of offerings are being shared by the national student organizations. Catholic students connect to on campus (for instance, Newman, FOCUS).
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, an inter-denominational, evangelical Christian campus ministry, has created an online blog that offers resources to minister online through the pandemic. The site houses diverse guides to host online prayers, convene small and large groups online, and online leader meetings. They also have a running podcast and training webinars on online ministry, spiritual disciplining, pastoring and more.
To foster community, connection and meaningful learning opportunities virtually, Hillel International launched Hillel@Home, which offers virtual meetups and online gatherings for Jewish students around the world. Apart from hosting events featuring compelling Jewish voices and inspiring leaders, the site also offers resources like tips on how to host a Seder on Zoom and virtual Passover games for students to celebrate Passover online.
Muslim Student Associations (MSA) are also campus-based student groups. At Howard University in Washington D.C, students of the MSA have been assigning ‘prayer partners’ to be together in prayer virtually, remind each other to pray on time, and check-in on their spiritual and mental wellbeing. Every Sunday, the Office of the Dean of the Chapel hosts a live ‘Get your Mind Right’ session on Instagram to help students prepare for the coming week and discuss the challenges and opportunities they are facing from online classes.
Sikh student groups on campus are organized by students with a Sikh or non-Sikh advisor depending on the make-up of the campus. The Sikh Coalition is an advocacy group that works to protect the rights of Sikh-Americans to practice their faith without fear. The Coalition, while not focused exclusively on higher education, launched a COVID-19 response and resources campaign on their website that offers an array of programs, opportunities, and resources like a guide to combat cyberbullying and online safety during e-learning sessions.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.