Keeping the faith in college

GVL / Megan Sinderson

Photo Illustration

Megan Sinderson

GVL / Megan Sinderson Photo Illustration

Leah Mitchell

According to a study done by the Social Science Research Council, 64 percent of people enrolled in a four-year college institution reported a decline in religious service attendance.

Professor Sheldon Kopperl of Grand Valley State University’s religious studies department said these numbers are not necessarily surprising.

“Sometimes a student rebels, especially if they were raised in a very strict home and they want to explore different faiths,” Kopperl said.

But students often trace back to some form of religion because of the established framework and worth that it often provides, said sociology professor George Lundskow.

“What is most important to everyone is that they have to have a meaningful object of devotion of some kind,” Lundskow said. “Usually this takes form through a God or the divine. This is vital for everyone because it provides a meaningful framework of evidence.”

Lundskow said a college education teaches students to be thoughtful, critical and innovative, and he believes that as the younger generation matures and moves into areas of greater responsibility, more influence will be exerted and religion will become increasingly dynamic.

“Most college students and people in this range, often change their beliefs, but rarely give up their faith entirely,” Lundskow said.

Students become most receptive to the different avenues of religion within the beginning six to eight months of their freshman year because of the new situation they’ve been thrown into, said GVSU Campus Ministries Rev. Chris Pieters.

“They are looking for friendship, community and support,” Pieters said. “They are in the process of building a new life here at Grand Valley and are looking into what ministries could shape their daily lives here on campus. After those first few months go by, the flow is pretty consistent. There are always new students coming around, but the biggest flood is at the beginning of the year.”

Kopperl said the academic classes and campus organizations that GVSU offers are crucial for students who want to actively pursue their personal faith or even explore another that they know nothing about.

“There is nothing better to reinforce something that you have learned at home than to be around a group of people that can help you here,” Kopperl said. “A lot of students who have been raised with traditions will be interested to explore different avenues. In the end, this often confirms their original faith.”

Kopperl added that most students who come to GVSU with a previously learned religion are used to having a large community of like-minded people.

While GVSU has no religious affiliation, it offers different religious communities on a smaller scale through groups such as Hillel: the Jewish community, The Muslim Student Association and multiple Christian organizations such as Intervarsity, Young Life and Campus Ministries.

Community in a secular environment is something that Junior Evan Smeenge is fond of as well. As a transfer from Calvin College, Smeenge compared a constant religious environment to a secular one.

“I didn’t really know how to live out and seek out my faith, and I have always had Christianity shoved down my throat,” Smeenge said. “This was suffocating. Here at GVSU you have to search for your faith and search for a community of believers. It was a hard and easy at the same time. Not all of your friends are Christians, and not everyone you meet is a Christian, therefore your faith is more intentional.”

For more information about faith-based organizations on GVSU’s campus, visit
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