STORY BY GIULIANA LAMANTIA
The individualistic culture of college can make it a challenge for students to stay involved in a faith they were brought up in.
While misconceptions exist, students also feel Drake University is religiously diverse because of the assortment of religious organizations on campus. Students devoted to their faith look to those organizations to help them throughout the challenges of college.
Senior Emily Foegen, president of Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) Greek, looks to the organization to help her and her peers adjust to religion, in Greek life specifically, in addition to college life in general.
“At FOCUS Greek we do things more geared toward Greek students, just recognizing especially in Greek life, it can be really difficult to keep with ones’ faith in a culture that has a lot of emphasis on partying as a whole,” Foegen said.
Besides the usual pressures of college, such as underage drinking, Foegen believes one of the most difficult challenges for students adjusting to college life is simply figuring out what is important to them.
“I think for a lot of people, they’ve grown up in a faith that is what their parents told them to do, so going to college is the first time they take ownership for it,” Foegen said.
When Foegen first came to Drake, she felt she “fell off the map” in terms of her religion. However finding community through FOCUS and Bible study has helped her stay on track in her faith throughout her college experience.
“I meet once a week with girls who share the same values as me, and girls who are trying to live their faith in this college setting that can be really difficult,” Foegen said. “I think bible studies are really helpful. It’s almost like a family away from home that encourages you.”
The Muslim Student Association (MSA) at Drake has the same idea, working to represent Muslim students, create awareness of the Islam faith and provide a community for Muslim students.
One accomplishment of MSA in the last two years was working with Sodexo to have Halal food served in Hubbell Dining and Quad Creek Cafe as well as at events.
“As a Muslim, we have some duties we are supposed to do every day like pray or certain types of food we are supposed to eat, so it’s always good to have a place to go or belong,” graduate student and previous MSA president Mustajab Ali said.
Living in Des Moines, Ali now serves as an outside member of MSA.
Members of MSA are open to talking about their faith and host events to become involved with the college community and make other students aware of religious misconceptions.
“I think not just being Muslim, but with any religious organization, people have the misconception that they might be really religious, they might have specific beliefs or that they might not get along with them,” Ali said.
“Being a member of MSA, what we try to do is hold some events like potluck, gatherings or Islam Awareness Week so other people can come see we are just like them.”
First-year Hanisah Rahman has adjusted well so far in a new environment.
“Most of my friends thought I would not fit in very well because I have to pray and I wear a scarf, but so far I have a lot of friends that have different religions and they’re really respectful when I’m praying,” Rahman said.
With a requirement to pray five times a day in the Muslim faith, finding a place to pray has been one of the biggest challenges for students.
“We can pray anywhere, but we don’t have any specific place to pray, for example we don’t have any prayer hall at Drake,” junior Shaiful Samlawi said.
MSA is currently working to establish a place for prayer on campus. Even so, they feel non-Muslim students have been respectful during times of prayer.
“Even though we don’t have a specific place to pray, students for the most part are very understanding,” Ali said. “If they see a person pray they make sure they are not making noise. Having a specific place to pray would be ideal, so any Muslim for that time being can go there and pray however they want to.”
Drake Hillel, a Jewish organization, recently received a house near campus to host dinners, meetings and events for Jewish students involved as well as non-Jewish students interested in learning about the faith.
President and first-year Ian Miller has found it challenging to be away from family while practicing his faith.
“A big part of the Jewish faith is being with family, so being so far away from them makes it difficult because there is a certain aspect of each religious holiday and every family has their own tradition,” Miller said.
However, this same idea has also expanded his horizons in his religion through Hillel.
“(Hillel) opens your eyes to other families’ traditions and other peoples home lives,” Miller said. “You see what their traditions are and what they entail, so you get to know people better and how they interact with the religion.”
No matter what religion, students have found that finding a support system among their peers or organizations have helped them adjust to life in college while still practicing their chosen faith.
“Find people who have similar beliefs as you, find people with different religions,” Miller said. “There are other people that have similar feelings and beliefs, and it’s even better to get involved in an organization that focuses on that faith or at least compliments that faith.”