Sometimes it feels like walking into a classroom is the bravest thing a Christian college student can do.
After all, it’s easy to feel threatened when you know that the professor and most of the other students aren’t likely to agree with you on, well, anything.
I imagine that’s how a lot of Christian college students feel when they attend secular institutions.
Thankfully, there are ways to find fellowship with like-minded believers, even at non-Christian colleges and universities.
It’s no secret that it can be difficult to be a Christian student in college and graduate school. The higher education system in America is notoriously secular and anti-religious.
During my first semester in graduate school, a professor devoted a portion of our evening seminar to discussing why politically and religiously conservative people do not belong in the world of academia.
For example, he made the sweeping statement that anyone who believes in creationism is not smart enough to teach or study at the level required for a Master’s degree or Ph.D.
I raised my hand and, in not so many words, asked if I should close the door on my way out.
The other students, most of whom had expressed some level of agreement with the professor, sat awkwardly and avoided commenting.
The professor reframed his statements in light of my contribution, but the damage was already done. I left the classroom later that night feeling hollow, lonely, and in some way abandoned by God.
Where was He in this place that seemed so committed to denying Him?
And how could I stay close to Him while immersing myself in the culture of education?
Christian students can often feel suspended between two worlds: their faith community, in which education and academics may not often be discussed; and their academic community, in which faith is often looked down upon or mocked.
Sometimes it’s hard to find a place of belonging in either space, but it’s necessary.
Feelings of isolation run rampant in both undergraduate and graduate students, whether or not they are Christians, but the situation is compounded for students of faith.
Faith is such a core aspect of a student’s identity that, when a professor questions it or jokes about it (as mine did), strong emotions rise to the surface.
It’s no help when other students simply agree with the professor or even add their own jokes.
In my case, once the anger and disappointment have subsided, I simply feel alone and isolated. Isolation is often a precursor to anxiety, depression, and a host of other mental and physical ailments.
In other words, it’s dangerous.
While I know God is with me wherever I go, sometimes I need to see His people — His physical manifestation here on Earth — to be reminded.
Throughout my undergraduate and graduate careers, I’ve learned the importance of consistent connection with other believers.
With my experiences in mind, here are a few reminders for Christian students who are struggling to practice community in college.
1. Remember that God is present, even in your loneliness.
Sometimes I only need to be reminded that God understands my loneliness and hears my prayers when I’m in an overtly secular place.
Praying in my classroom or reading the Scriptures in my office are ways of reclaiming space in Jesus’ name. I feel His presence more strongly when I’ve made the effort to acknowledge it.
For others, this might look like locating Christian texts in the campus library, taking a prayer walk through a cluster of buildings, or meditating on a Psalm in a public space.
Actively seek out ways to reorient yourself to God’s presence at your university.
2. Remember that you’re not truly alone on campus.
It’s a rare university or college in America that doesn’t have some kind of campus ministry operating locally.
And there are even student organizations devoted specifically to Christian apologetics and defending the truth of Christianity like Ratio Christi.
It takes effort and intentionality to connect with other believers on campus, but most institutions have a list of campus ministries and religious groups readily available for students and faculty.
3. Remember to get involved off-campus, too.
One of my favorite weekly events in graduate school is church on Sunday morning. It’s refreshing to step away from everything familiar at school and see a completely different group of people.
The education system operates on routine: class, study, research, meetings, and so on. But we can’t forget, as students with busy schedules, to commit ourselves to regular worship with a local church.
Finding a list of churches near your university is remarkably simple, thanks to the internet.
I’ve been blessed enough to stay with the first church I visited after moving to graduate school, but it may take a few visits to different churches to find the community where God wants to use your gifts and build you up.
4. Remember that you have support as a student.
Finally, it can be useful to talk to professors and staff at your university about your loneliness.
While they may not always understand the religious component of your feelings, the chances are high that they want you to feel connected to and invested in campus life.
While my graduate advisor is not a Christian, she does her best to empathize with my feelings of isolation and ask how she can make the situation better.
Sometimes all I need is one person who won’t unknowingly insult my religion!
It takes consistent faith to keep coming to school when it feels like I’m the only follower of Christ at my university.
But God has worked through campus ministries, local churches, and many other people to remind me that He is present, no matter where I go.
Remember that you’re never alone, no matter how isolated you feel.