Religious groups welcome all
Religious organizations on campus are active and open to new members of all religious denominations.
The Interfaith Office in the Adanti Student Center is home to the organizations: Hillel Jewish Organization, SCSU Catholic Ministry and the Muslim Student Organization.
Despite its tight space, the office hosts many faith-filled activities. The limited space is both a strength and weakness says Rabbi Barbara Paris, Hillel adviser and adjunct professor Judaic studies program.
“When we have Shabbat, we’ve been outside mostly when it’s nice enough, but when it’s not we have people in the hallway, and there aren’t enough chairs—it’s a problem,” says Paris. “When we tried to have our Yom Kippur celebration, the Catholic Ministry was in [the office] and we had to find a space for over 20 students.”
Paris says at the start of the pandemic, most clubs saw a decline in involvement. Meanwhile Hillel saw a fortified group of members and participants.
“We already had a good solid group,” says Paris. “So, when COVID hit in March , we switched to totally virtual and lo and behold, the group stayed together. It was a miracle.”
In 2020, Hillel was named club of the year by Student Involvement & Leadership Development because of its dedication to staying connected during the pandemic.
“Not only did we have Friday Night Shabbat every Friday, but I also started teaching a Hebrew class, and we started a book club and learned prayers. It was amazing,” says Paris.
“When we got back on campus it was still the same strong group.”
Just starting to get back into full operation since the pandemic, the Muslim Student Association had a tumultuous year of e-board changes and lack of involvement.
According to MSA President Sarah Majzoub, sophomore, a political science major, says it has been working on introducing new events to get students involved with their organization including weekly discussions about the religion and religious text.
“I know in recent years [the MSA] hasn’t been as active, due to COVID, but this year is going to be different,” says Majzoub. “We’re planning to do a lot more events that includes non-Muslim students, so if students are interested, and want to learn more, they can join for game night or come along on our meet-ups with other MSA groups.”
The Catholic Ministry is open to new members joining the 15 current members participating in club activities.
“It’s a safe space for people of the faith to feel comfortable talking about the issue in the faith because sometimes religion can feel a little taboo or sensitive to discuss,” says president of the Catholic Ministry Brooke Armistead, a junior and communication major.
The ministry is also finding unique ways to support its members and religiously curious students.
“We have opportunity for prayer, volunteer opportunities, Bible studies and discussions,” says Armistead.
“We did a rosary making event recently. We have opportunities for Mass or adoration, which is a catholic form of worship.
We also have carpooling available for Mass because it’s not currently held near campus.”
The church closest to SCSU, St. Aedan and Brendan Church on Fountains St., New Haven, which has had no live-in priest on site so the ministry has had to switch locations for weekend sermons.
“We’re [in Interfaith Office] and active. We want everyone to feel able to come and talk about things,” says Armistead.
With the return of some normalcy on campus this semester comes new challenges of supporting students.
“Students have a lot of mental health issues, not just at Southern but everywhere, and there’s only so many counselors you can hire at the school. Why not have us as a resource as well,” says Paris. “I don’t even need to see a student who’s Jewish, it would just be about adding more resources, adding more people to talk to.”
Obtaining the necessary space to support these students is the main concern for Paris who believes it is a crucial component in facilitating a stronger connection with students.
“I think that it’s important that students have the place, and the community where they can just be,” says Paris.
With more and more members showing interest in different faiths, the Interfaith Office has its challenges managing space. Rabbi Paris hopes to expand the space so they won’t run into as many issues.
MSA has seen this problem as well with its prayer room. The room, on the second floor of ASC, is not big enough to accommodate the number of students who want to pray.
“I think Southern does a really good job of handling religious organizations,” says Majzoub. “The room is just a little small, and we’re hoping to work on getting it expanded.”
According to research conducted by the Pew Research Organization (pewresearch.org), since the 1990s large numbers of Americans have left Christianity to shift towards agnostic or atheistic views. There is no shortage of young adults who consider themselves “unaffiliated,” Pew Research found that 32% of U.S. teens and 34% of young adults, consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. It is expected this number will increase with growing trends.
Those in the Interfaith Office stress that their events are open to all religiously curious people, which has led to more students getting involved with the organizations.
“Anybody is welcome to come and learn. A lot of my students are not what I would call religious, many of them didn’t even grow up with Judaism, they might have had a Christian parent, and they’re just interested in learning more about it,” says Paris.
“I try to make it really accessible, so they don’t feel shy even if they’ve never heard of what Yom Kippur is.”
No matter what religion—or lack thereof—that students practice, there are organizations willing to support them through the changing world post-pandemic.
“We just want people to feel comfortable. I think with college students, either they’re away from home, or trying to balance working and going to school, with so many things going on, it could be a lot to handle,” says Paris. “That is why I would hope that they would find a community where they can just feel comfortable.”
By: Valeria Araujo