While they focus on economics in their op-ed piece, James Piereson and Naomi Schaefer Riley make a good point for those interested in college ministry. What matters, they write, is not so much what happens in the classroom. Rather, the thing that most effects students’ attitudes are the time spent pursuing “extracurricular activitivies.”
While not denying that there are “organizations and constituencies on the contemporary campus” who stand “to gain from protest and unrest”alliances among these individuals and groups “are rarely formed in the classroom or in the traditional research disciplines.”
…growing radicalism on campus seems to originate instead in the broad category of student life that takes place outside the classroom. A 2014 study, for instance, found that students who spent a greater number of hours on extracurricular activities on campus (as opposed to classroom studies) were more likely to see their politics move toward one extreme or the other, in most cases toward the far left.
For campus ministers, this means that the best way to help students deepen their faith is to encourage them to spend time with each other outside the classroom.
While social activities are important they can’t be the point for campus ministries. If we are to help students deepen their commitment to Christ and the Church, we need to be willing to spend time with them talking with them (note, with them not to them) about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.
This means not simply covering a lightly Christian version of what happens in secular groups. What need to do instead is focus on what is distinctive about being a Christian. We can’t deny the points of agreement between the Gospel and the surrounding culture.
However, we can’t at the expense of helping students see what is unique in the Christian tradition and so the ways in which the culture and the Church diverge from each other. One the best ways to do this is to help students understand their own personal vocations. We must ask again and again, who is Christ calling you to become?
And we need not only to ask this. We need to help students discern their vocation. And then, building on this, we need to help them discern how to be the person Christ has called them to be.
Before any of this can happen we need to spend time with students individually and in groups. As part of this time we also need to help students understand that they have a vocation and that it is fidelity to this vocation that will make the education and professional they seek personally meaningful and so of lasting value.