Campus religious and spiritual groups create welcoming home for students

At a Quaker school, it can seem like religion is everywhere. The Hut is always brimming with meetings and different groups constantly hosting events on campus. And yet, in day-to-day life, most students prioritize other needs before their own spirituality.

Religious Emphasis Week, Feb. 16–22, was a time to reflect on religion on campus and why it matters.

The various religious groups on campus can be places of discovery. Coming from a Christian background, sophomore Laura Todd is currently the secretary and treasurer of Hillel and a member of the Guilford College Community of Religious Observants.

“When I came to Guilford, I found that I kept getting drawn back into religious life,” said Todd.

“But I can see how in college people don’t typically see religion as cool, and religion and spirituality tend to fall by the wayside.”

People of all faiths are welcome to every religious event on campus and are encouraged to learn and ask questions about different ideas.

College is, after all, a time for exploring and questioning ideas. Finding a place or a comfortable belief system is a life-long journey that for many, begins in this period of life.

“I’d like to see more frank and open discussion between members of different religious communities as well as those with no faith tradition or affiliation,” said Guilford College Religious Observance member and senior Omar Hamad in an email interview. “I want there to be dialogue where people aren’t afraid to disagree with one another and less fluff talk about spirituality in an abstract sense.”

The key here is a feeling of inclusivity and welcoming, so students can feel comfortable discussing such subjects that for some are a sensitive issue. The first step is to ask questions.

“Though very few people on campus consider themselves Buddhist, there are always people willing to learn,” said junior Sophie Laine, member of the Buddhist Fellowship. “Religious life isn’t a separate part of someone’s life; it’s a continuous presence. Having a group that helps with that is very rewarding.”

Senior Emily Eadie, president of Pagan Mysticism Group, said participating with a religious group on campus has allowed her to both strengthen her beliefs and allow them to grow.

“There are still lessons from religion and spirituality that we can learn from,” said Eadie. “It’s good to know we’re making a positive difference in the community.”

Fostering a sense of community is an imperative for every group on campus.

“We don’t want to be shut off, we want to love and serve other people,” said junior Turner Votipka, a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

For some, the act of seeking religious groups is not so much an exploration of a foreign world but a return to the familiar. At home, it can be easier to participate in one’s religious beliefs, while in college it requires extra effort.

During a recent panel discussion, the Muslim Student Association discussed the need for a non-denominational place of prayer on campus, where people of all faiths and beliefs could come together in a quiet, focused space.

For Muslims especially, who pray five times a day, having a place on campus would make prayer more convenient. Not having a set location leaves Muslim students praying in stairwells or in quiet corners of classrooms and are often unable to perform Wudu, their pre-prayer cleansing ritual.

“I was walking up the hallway in the Frank Family Science Center and I saw a woman praying in the hallway,” said first-year Airperi Iusopova. “I really appreciate how she found the courage to do that, but I felt sad that she couldn’t really concentrate on her prayer.”

For sophomore and President of Hillel Stephanie Byer, campus has always felt welcoming. In that spirit, Byer wants to make sure her group is a place for all students to feel at home. Every Friday evening, Hillel holds Shabbat, a ceremony to usher in the day of rest, where all are encouraged to participate and learn about Jewish culture.

Religious Emphasis Week was just a week, but personal beliefs about religion and spirituality are not contained to a week; they last a lifetime. At a place like Guilford, now is a great time to start asking questions.