Faith at core of life for many on Hill
Leaving home for Mayflower Hill
four years ago,CatherineWoodiwiss '09
knew that she was casting aside the
comfortable, familiar and nurturing environment
that she had taken for granted.
She knew that her new life in college
would challenge her in every
way. She would have to make new
friends and create another nurturing
community that would replace the
comforts of her childhood home.
While it may take months for most students tomeet classmates who share similar ideals and backgrounds, Woodiwiss knew where she would find like-minded friends immediately.
She chose to connect the Colby Christian Fellowship (CCF) soon after she arrived on campus.
Having grown up a dedicated Christian, she knew that leaving home would challenge her faith. Coming to the College "made me take ownership of my faith and ask some really difficult questions--'do I actually believe this?'--It was hard, but necessary."
She found her faith strengthened,more assured and, more than ever, her own. In doing so, she joined a small, yet vibrant community: religious life on campus.
The CCF is one of several religious groups at the College, which includes the Colby Muslim Group, Colby Hillel--a Jewish group--and the Newman Council, a Catholic community. These groups provide the framework and moral support for students to remain active in their religion, both spiritually and intellectually. They can look to each other for conversations on faith, an often-taboo subject among the nonreligious.
And they can take comfort in shared beliefs and experiences.A member of the Hillel club, Andy Cook '09, grew up in a Jewish community in Minnesota. Though his religious background did not play a tremendous role in his decision to attend Colby, he has become active in the college's Hillel group during the past four years. "I was always around these [Jewish] traditions...so I think I almost took it for granted then I came here...and I saw the worth [of my religion]."
Since his freshman year, he explained: "I've become increasingly religious and increasingly observant."
Cook said his story is one of growth, maturing and "coming into my family tradition more," after he left home on his own.
In Hillel, he has found a community that he can rely on, a feeling that other religious group members share. Within Hillel, "we try to create opportunities [to embrace our traditions and cultures] for ourselves and others," Cook said.
It is hard to maintain the traditions and values of home while on the Hill, "but a lot of that has to do with location....[The school does] what it can for us," Cook said. Even so, challenges of keeping Kosher-following traditional Jewish dietary restrictions-are difficult to manage. Before he lived offcampus, Cook did not follow the Kosher tradition.
Tausif Salim '11 and his Muslim peers face the parallel challenge of following Halal-Muslim dietary restrictions. "The meat we eat at Colby is not permissible" under Islamic law, he said. Salim does eat meat here, although he would prefer not to. Another Muslim Colby student and a friend of Salim's, follows Halal dietary restrictions but he is limited to a small selection of acceptable food in the dining halls. Often, Salim said, he cooks his own meat, which is shipped from his family in New York.
The Colby Muslim Group is trying to find ways to bring Halal food to campus dining. "It's probably not going to be a big expense but it could augment a sense of community-that Colby provides for differences" Salim said.
While the dietary aspect of Salim's religious life remains a concern, other aspects of his spiritual life remain vibrant. He prays five times a day as Islam calls for. "Praying has a never been a problem for me," he said. "Mosques are not required [to pray]." While there are set times to pray throughout the day, it is difficult with a full schedule on the Hill to pray in the specific time slots, so he will often end up praying twice in a row in order to accomplish all five praying sessions. Once a week, there is a required group prayer, mandated by Islamic law, which is offered on campus Fridays at 1 p.m. in the Rose Room of Lorimer Chapel.
Julianne Kowalski '11 is one of Colby's Catholic student, who has found a community in the Newman Council-"It's tough [to be religious on campus] individually, but it's so much easier when you have a group," she said. For her, having God as a priority "brings everything into perspective."
The Newman Council encourages her to engage in Eucharistic Adoration by finding a place, time or reminder to escape or reflect, which Kowalski notes is "very individual," as opposed to Sunday Mass, which is "very structured," she said. With the range in services and philosophy, Kowalski feels that her religious needs are fulfilled on the Hill. Though she is also a Catholic, Emma Creeden '12 has taken a different approach to practicing her faith. So far this year, she has chosen not to participate in the Newman Council, although she does attend mass weekly and tries to find time to reflect on a regular basis. "Since coming here I haven't paid as much attention as I have in the past [to my faith]-probably because I don't go to a religiously affiliated school now." "When I do engage in my faith I go to church because I want to be there and I think I get more out of it than I go when I have to," Creeden said. "Sometimes it registers that I'm not as immersed [in my faith here] and sometimes it doesn't. When it does, I ask myself why-do I feel an impact?"
"I miss it sometimes and I think it'd be cool if people talked about it more because that's how you grow in your understanding," Creeden said. Religion, Creeden believes, is a subject that many people avoid discussing- it's almost taboo, like race and social class. "It would be better if everyone was more comfortable bringing up faith as a topic."
She herself does not generally announce it to her friends when she goes to Sunday Mass. "It's not something I feel comfortable being like, 'OK, I'm going to church, bye.'"
"People should be able to practice and engage in their beliefs as they perceive them...it's another barrier to getting to know and understand one another," Creeden said.
Woodiwiss has found that, for her too, conversations on faith are hard to come by outside of CCF. "For a lot of us [CCF is] the only arena where [talking about faith] is welcomed or encouraged," she said. But, similar to what Creeden said, a challenge for Woodiwiss has been fully connecting with people who do not share the same faith. "As much as I care about my friends...there is a part of me they can't fully understand [my love for Jesus] and that's difficult," she said.
Allison Straw '10 is a Christian student who has been passionately involved with CCF since first arriving on campus-in fact, she had contacted Christian fellowships at the schools she applied to before making decisions about where to go. She said, "Being a part of a group, talking about Jesus and what he's done has helped me have compassion for people at Colby and around the world... Christ's example of love has been a great motivation for me to love everyone."
For Woodiwiss, "CCF has been a real model for me of what a life dedicated to Christ looks like...there's so much love and intentional relationships between people in the group...the level of trust and love that I see in the group is high in a way I don't see in other places and it has inspired me to live with the same love."
Yet while these four groups provide structure and community for some religious students on campus through group prayer, holiday celebrations, bible studies and other such activities, there are religious students here who do not have groups designed for their religion. Sakshi Balani '10, a Hindu student from India, said that being Hindu and Indian are so closely connected and so deeply embedded in her identity that it is hard to separate the two. In fact, she says that both Hinduism and India are so diverse within themselves that being religious is "one of many aspects of my life."
"I have a very strong faith in God and I choose to have that strong faith," Balani said. "I pray every day in my own room." While "I think it'd be great if we had a Hindu organization," she said, for her, "it's not necessary." Coming to Colby she knew that there would not be a Hindu organization.
"There is no one way of practicing Hindu; there is no one daily way of being Hindu," she said. "Because it's such a diverse religion in itself you don't need to seek out people like you." She and fellow Hindu students have organized events for festivals like Diwali and Holi through the International Club.
In fact it is holidays-such as Easter, Passover and Ramadan-are the largest draws for any events hosted by the campus groups. The Colby Muslim Group in particular noted that many non-Muslims come join their friends for such events.
Sakhi Khan, faculty advisor to the Colby Muslim Group and adjunct assistant professor of athletics, said of non-Muslim students who come: "I think the first impression they get is...really how open the group is. And once they find out how open it is, they tend to come a lot."
Both Khan and Rabbi Raymond Krinsky, Jewish chaplain and advisor to Hillel, said that the role the groups play vary yearly based on students needs, desires and initiatives. All group advisors said that theit is the student leaders who are the main thrust behind the groups' activity.
Krinsky, the College's first and only Jewish chaplain, has been connected with the school since 1981. He has seen religious life fluctuate on campus, "It varies from year to year, from generation to generation...what goes around the country seems to go around the school," he said.
There are a number of students who identify themselves as spiritual but not religious. Brother Anthony Rex, assistant Catholic chaplain and notable around campus in his brown, Franciscan robes, believes that there is a human desire to be part of something greater. This spiritual energy can be channeled in misguided ways through what he calls the "hook-up culture"-drugs, sex and rock and roll.
Allison Straw considers it in a different light, "I think there's some spiritual longing out there...it expresses itself in different forms."
She lives "counter-culturally" what is considered typical for a collegeaged student. She defines her lifestyle as putting God and other people first, and she said that at times, that philosophy can be exhausting and overwhelming.
Overall, most people seemed content or quite appreciative of the College's accommodations for religious groups. It isn't perfect though, and Peter Harris, Zacamy professor of English, suggested that Colby does not do enough and that an interfaith minister-"someone whose job it is to bring together people of different faiths and also to bring to campus speakers who address issues of belief and faith from a non-sectarian point of view," would be key to improving religious life on campus. Others point to the awkward timing of spring break not overlapping with Passover and Easter, year after year.
Nonetheless, living as a religious student on the Hill, several students say, leaves room for improvement and acceptance. Though Andy Cook practices his Jewish faith in the Hillel group, he still keeps his kippah-his skull-cap traditionally worn at all times by Jewish men-in his pocket. It's not something unique to the College-he would not wear his kippah in the business world, either. Yet it remains with him at all times, a daily reminder of his faith and its place in the small community of Colby.