SMU Campus Climate
The Christian life can be chaotic and challenging, and this is no different at SMU. As Christians, we know it is not easy, accepting that we will never be perfect on Earth, but are being sanctified more and more by God’s grace each day.
In this page, we hope to highlight the challenging aspects at SMU that directly affect Christians– These are areas that we, at RUF, are working through the Gospel to improve each and every day for the good of our students and campus at large.
Religious Agnosticism: "So what about Christianity or God?"
It is not that most students are hostile to God and Jesus. It is that most live in such a way that neither God nor Jesus is an important part of their life at this point in time. This is not a judgment on the students nor is it to say that God is not actively at work. In fact, it is quite the opposite. At RUF and other places, God is very present and the Holy Spirit is at work.
Nominal Christianity: "I get it, you're preaching to the choir."
SMU is the shiny buckle of the Bible Belt, garrisoned by one of the largest United Methodist churches in the world. Multiple mega churches are within miles along with nearly every other denomination. Many of these churches are gospel believing and missional, so naturally they seek to influence their local college. As a result, there are 25 different Christian ministries on campus.
There are also many students who identify as Christians at SMU. 25% of the student body is Catholic, a little known fact! By now you are wondering, how do religious agnosticism and nominal Christianity fit? Are these the same students or different groups within the school?
To those who have heard the Gospel repeatedly, it is easy to become numbed to its challenging call to repent and extraordinary invitation to a loving, joy-filled life. This is why RUF presents the bold Gospel, its demanding and miraculous call to a different life.
The Pressure Cooker - "Sorry, things are crazy right now."
The SMU student seeks to maximize their schedule: majors, sports, and organized extracurriculars fill the day – things that are important to be involved in to foster the college experience. SMU offers many ways for students to get involved so it can often feel overwhelming.
For some, these options begin to feel like pressure. With so many options, "I must be doing something," becomes the default mindset of the typical college student. The university encourages a high degree of involvement, so often students have to choose between conflicting meetings. Involvement with a campus ministry is one of the first activities to be cut when deadlines approach and the workload piles up.
RUF answers these pressures by inviting students to rest in the fellowship of the Gospel where all needs to perform and justify ourselves have been met through the cross and resurrection.
No Material Needs - "Meh. I've got one already."
When someone arrives at campus, it is evident that SMU is a beautiful place. One quickly realizes though is that it is also a place of abundance. The university facilities and socio economic background of many if not most of the students means that there is little if any outward need. Of course this is not true for EVERY student, but it does mean that any kind of event, food, or other opportunity will not be unique, novel, or especially valuable to the typical student. Said another way, students are used to getting things and having things, so there are few wants for material items.
Ironically, as abundant as SMU is materially, it can be very trying socially and can be harmful to mental wellbeing. The pressure to keep up materially and be successful academically or professionally means that every activity or action carries enormous weight. Feeling isolated and under pressure can lead some to high levels of anxiety and other mental illness.
RUF is here for students looking to find help when this hits. Much of our ministry happens over meals and in coffee shops, listening and counseling students towards their sufficiency in Christ Jesus.
Status & Conformity - "Where do I rank and how do I fit in?"
SMU is a tight-knit community and every students works to find their place. Some students care deeply about fitting in with the “right” group. This is true everywhere but can be highlighted in the Greek system. Students typically find they end up in the right place and form lasting friendships, but freshman can feel pressure their first semester.
Many students who don't join a sorority or fraternity will likely find community within their major or one of the many other student groups. Additionally, in 2014 the campus instituted a residential commons system wherein first and second-year students live in a dorm with its own unique culture and community.
RUF aims to be a place where the Gospel flattens claims to status and invites one and all to be a part of the group. It does this while simultaneously believing that God make each individual unique and in his own image, created for His glory but also with specific callings and challenges.
The Pleasure/Comfort Principle - "If it feels good, it must be right."
SMU is a beautiful place with many beautiful people. It promises an outstanding education and career opportunities, but also offers a wide assortment of luxuries. A tanning pool and masseuses are readily available, as are other state-of-the-art facilities.
Most students are very comfortable in the environment SMU fosters so therefore they do not actively feel the need to seek the Lord. This is not to say students do not grow, learn, change, and experience hardship. However, as Christians it is easy to feel like we can “do it without God.” When things are OK, the surrounding certainly allow you to feel that you are ok. It is important for us to actively open our hearts to God both when we are comfortable and uncomfortable.
RUF is a place that offers thanksgiving for all forms of blessing and comfort and perseverance to hardship and challenge. Contrary to much worldly wisdom, we believe that God uses pain and suffering for refinement and under his good providence. Suffering is often the crucible through which we learn dependence on God’s mercy and where we see his loving-kindness.
Technological Detachment - "Hold on, let me send him a Snap."
Smartphone technology distances students as it connects them. The gains made in communicating instantly with up to hundreds of friends comes at the expense of face-to-face interaction. Smartphone etiquette requires detachment from present people and situations. This means that we can be together and entirely isolated, or as Sherry Turkle has aptly called i, “alone together.”
RUF is a place that celebrates technological advancement and the attendant blessings that accompany it, but that recognizes its inability to replace real face-to-face relationships with other people.
As a result of these challenges, what attitude is prevalent?
While the student feels pressure in regards to the day to day, there is an apathy to what we call the “big questions”: "Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose to life?" Most students do not overtly seek answers to these questions. There isn't time to think about the meaning of it all during midterms. Continual smartphone usage erodes concern for bigger questions and pull us to immediate stimulation and response.
RUF is a place that offers the good news of the Gospel to bring students to eternal life in Jesus Christ.
Where does this leave us?
I have painted the challenges of life at SMU, which isn't so different from other college campuses. Overall, what differs at SMU is the extent to which the student thinks pragmatically. The typical student is here to work hard and play hard.
Ultimately, the typical SMU student is not noticeably sad, but often can be lacking a bigger sense of purpose. Time and attention are most sought after and most scarce.
This is why we need RUF. And this is why we need to be grounded in the Foundations of Christianity