As soon as they arrive on campus, Yale freshmen are typically bombarded with information from every type of club imaginable, from political unions to the Yale Anti-Gravity Society.
But as they grow accustomed to the campus, many students began to notice the less immediately visible presence of Yale’s spiritual groups.
Amy Jones ’09, a member of several Christian organizations on campus, including Yale Students for Christ, the Yale Gospel Choir, and Living Water, a Christian a cappella group, said she believes it is important for groups to make attempts to reach out to freshmen, not for the sake of the group, but to help students adjust to college life.
“I felt as a freshman that I needed some direction,” Jones said. “[YSC] is a really good support network. Even if you’re not Christian, it’s a very chill atmosphere where questions can be answered.”
Rev. Frederick Streets, University chaplain and senior pastor of the Church of Christ at Yale, said he is impressed by the level of religious involvement displayed by the students of Yale College and estimates that “a good third” of the students are involved in some form of organized religious activity. Streets said he encourages freshmen to get involved early.
“As a part of the Yale experience, the sooner students start exploring the religious smorgasbord here, [the more] it aids in their learning,” Streets said. “They don’t wait to start exploring other student services and activities, so why should they wait with this?”
Jones said she would not call the YSC’s efforts to make itself available to freshman “recruitment”.
“We’re not giving speeches or sermons,” Jones said. “We’re just getting to know the freshmen and letting them know that this resource is available to them.”
Jones has been involved in planning several freshman outreach activities, including games of capture the flag and a Wal-Mart run where students had the chance to get last-minute or forgotten items.
John Riley ’10, who identifies himself as Christian and said he intends to become involved in religious life at Yale, said he was surprised by the lack of advertisement for religious functions.
“It seems like the religious groups haven’t been prominent on the Yale campus so far,” Riley said.
Some students, however, said they do not identify themselves as being religious and feel uncomfortable in the face of spiritual involvement. Alessia Bhargava ’10 said she is not particularly interested in organized religion. She described an experience when she noticed a display of food outside Battell Chapel, and upon asking if she could take some, was told that the food was “intended for all of God’s children.”
“I felt uncomfortable … like the food wasn’t intended for me,” Bhargava said.
Still, Streets stresses that everyone can find their place at Yale, religious or otherwise.
“The important thing is that students recognize that they need not join any more than they need to join anything else,” he said. “It’s a part of the array of things for them to consider.”
There are seven registered student religious groups on the Chaplain’s Office Web site, among them Lotus, the University Buddhist Sangha; the Yale Hindu Council; Pagan Students of Yale; and several Christian organizations. To qualify as a religious group on campus, according to the University Chaplain’s Web site, a group must have at least five student members and “be a religious group within some religious tradition.”