The Latter-day Saint on Campus

Reporter: Richard Olsen


As a result of having accepted the gospel of Jesus Christ, Latter-day Saint students—whether in high school or college—face some peculiar challenges that concern them as they relate both as individuals and as a group to other students on campus.

The concern may be how to activate inactive Mormons, or how to share the gospel with nonmember acquaintances, or how to involve Latter-day Saint youth in meaningful social action.

Such concerns, of course, should be the topic of discussion in every bishop’s youth committee, M Man and Gleaner council, and other youth-related Church group.

They were, in fact, the topics of discussion at a recent gathering of the Student Association of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Here are some of the conclusions:

Challenge of Community Service

It would probably surprise most Latter-day Saints—both adults and youth—to know how deeply involved contemporary Mormon youth are in community cleanups, caring for elderly shut-ins, blood drives, hospital volunteer work, tutoring, and many other fascinating projects.

These general guidelines seem to be basic if you’re planning to get in on the action:

1. Get involved with other Latter-day Saints like yourself and make your project part of a Church-related group activity.

2. If your project is new, start small. Make a real effort to do the initial project well; then expand as experience, funds, support, and publicity increase.

3. If you’re part of a fund-raising project of benefit to the whole school or community, solicit support from well-known campus and community individuals, groups, or merchants.

4. Wherever possible, involve Mormons and non-Mormons who are not usually associated with Church activities.

Community service projects seem to divide themselves into two categories: special events projects and steady projects.

Special events projects are activities such as fund-raising carnivals, car washes, Christmas caroling at convalescent homes. These projects are typically annual or semiannual events, often requiring much time and manpower to prepare. However, they have the advantage of usually being unique in the community or school and have the potential of being well publicized.

Steady projects are activities that require a more sustained effort over a longer period of time, such as working with Boy Scout troops among disadvantaged youth, tutoring, and doing volunteer hospital work. Programs in this category usually have an already-functioning, permanent organization, and it’s easy for you to step into a special niche.

Here are three sample projects:

1. The Venice Project in Los Angeles. For the past two years Mormon students at UCLA have held successful Christmas parties for underprivileged children in Venice, near Los Angeles. First, they contact the California State Service Center and receive the names of seventy-five children between five and twelve years of age. The day of the party, all seventy-five children are gathered by the center at one locale. Merchants donate cookies, ice cream, and presents. Decorated trees are given to the children’s families after the party. Said one student leader, “We learned that many people outside our own group were anxious to help. We also learned that you need plenty of games to hold the interest of everyone.”

2. Tutoring Project at Utah State University. Mormon student tutors meet twice weekly for one hour at the institute of religion building to offer counsel to fellow students—some needing social and emotional help, some academic assistance. The students first contacted the university staff and worked out a coordinated effort. The project now assists retarded children throughout Cache Valley. A student leader voiced a caution: “If you’re interested in this kind of activity, proceed only under the supervision of a professionally qualified teacher or counselor.”

3. Cub Scout Project at the University of Utah. Often working in pairs, Mormon students on the campus meet weekly with a den of from ten to twelve Cub Scouts, representing a variety of races and religions. They help the young boys to fly kites, play ball, and tour interesting spots in the city. Contact your local Boy Scout headquarters to get started in this type of project.

Challenge of Campus Image

Problems relating to the image of Mormon students on campus vary greatly from school to school, depending on the percentage of Latter-day Saints enrolled. But the problems of most universal concern are those common to campuses where the number of Church members is small. Here are some sample problems with suggested solutions:

Problem: “We Mormons don’t even have an ‘image’ at all. On campus we’re practically invisible.”

1. One group of Latter-day Saint students bought a whole page in the school newspaper—others have placed smaller ads—inviting the student body to Church-sponsored events.

2. On another campus Mormon students set up a miniature visitors center and introduced fellow students to the Church’s educational program. Preaching is usually against campus and state laws, but informing others of our progress is approved. One school permitted Mormon students to set up a table and pass out packets to interested students during registration periods.

3. As a Church-related group, Latter-day Saint students may contact their student government and offer to sponsor or co-sponsor an activity. Offer to do the publicity and other work if the school or subordinate organization will foot the bill. Even small groups can sponsor carnivals, sack races, and car washes in conjunction with traditional school celebrations.

4. See that Latter-day Saint students are recognized by student government and school administration so that you are eligible to use campus facilities for the same cost as other student organizations.

Problem: “The Black Students Union has been propagandized into giving us opposition. How can we help them to better understand our true position?”

Nothing melts friction so quickly as does getting together to discuss so-called problems. One group of Latter-day Saints asked for a private, informal meeting with black organizational leaders, at which time mutual needs were discussed. The atmosphere was constructive and polite, and the result was greater understanding and even cooperative friendship.

Problem: “Our Mormon kids are apathetic to campus politics. They complain that kooks and weirdos wield too much influence but they don’t do anything about it.”

One college campus has a student body of about 15,000 students, of which about 1,000 are Latter-day Saints. Voter turnout in student elections is usually between 1,000 and 1,500. A strong, concerted drive by the Mormon students resulted in several Mormons being elected as student body officers.

Challenge of Missionary Work

You can’t be a Mormon and not know that we are called to share the gospel with others. But our big problem as youth is how to reach out to other students. After wrestling with this issue, it became clear to everyone in our workshop that we should think in terms of missionary work for both nonmembers and inactive members; the problems in involving both groups seemed similar. Effective principles of missionary work are effective in whichever direction they are applied. However, everyone finally came to the conclusion that we should be more interested in what makes members interested in others and not in what makes nonmembers interested in us. The real question of the workshop was, How can we educate ourselves as Latter-day Saint students to extend ourselves to others in successful and satisfying ways? Everyone agreed that the question is not one of motivation. We’re all motivated. But we seem to lack the skills.

Here are the suggestions:

1. Enthusiasm is not enough—but it does carry you over the rough spots. Keep the enthusiasm.

2. Excitement is infectious. Students at the El Camino Junior College Institute of Religion were admitted to classes, social functions, and other activities on the condition that they bring a nonmember or inactive member with them—at least that was the goal toward which they worked. They soon tripled their number!

3. The most successful approaches are often creative. University of California Medical Center’s Mormon students gave out copies of the Book of Mormon to all their freshmen classmates for Christmas. Other campus groups elsewhere are planning to send New Era gift subscriptions to inactive members or to one nonmember friend of every Mormon on campus.

4. At the University of Idaho at Moscow, each class chose a student whose job it was to nag other students about bringing visitors and making sure that all newcomers felt welcome. Within a short time, no assignments were needed—performance was terrific!

5. Mormons on several campuses have asked that a practical lesson filled with practical tips be given on how to share the gospel with others, as well as counsel on how to quickly answer typical questions raised by non-Mormons. Once again, the big problem of skills seemed to be ever present, but it was decided that nothing teaches so fast as personal experience. The best way to learn is to make a start—now!

Meeting the Challenges of Special Groups

A special kind of family feeling exists among active Latter-day Saints. But the real, harder-to-realize brotherhood is that which makes an outsider feel like an insider. Here are some ideas on how to deal with several different groups who seem to have special needs:

The Marginal Mormon

Sometimes called inactive or semiactive, this person, as a rule, has never experienced the joy of membership and the richness of gospel truths. Suggestions on how to reach him are:

1. Find out his special interests and talents through a fellowshiping committee and then invite him to an event or activity in which he would be interested.

2. Let him know he is needed. Ask him to help in a special assignment, particularly in his field of interest.

A special application of this idea is working at Utah State University, where active and semiactive Mormons are asked to work with fellow inactive members who are in the same academic discipline and who feel that they are having problems with the gospel and their academic studies.

Ethnic Concerns

It is unfortunate but understandable that in a worldwide church that opens its arms to people of all races, some members will not have sufficient maturity to deal with everyone in the kingdom as true brothers and sisters. Ideas:

1. Invite representatives of minority groups to participate in panels and informal gatherings and to talk about their ideas and needs. This paves the way to trust and brotherhood.

2. Tutoring projects are sometimes needed, particularly among students who speak other languages in their homes. Students at Ricks College are eagerly helping Lamanite students in this way.

In a day of concern for the Spanish-American in the United States, it was refreshing to hear a Florida delegate report, “We have a good spirit existing between the Anglos and the Cubans at our school. It’s something that we’re all very happy about.”

Older Single Girls

Early in the discussion, everyone agreed that no age limit should ever be set for this group. The greatest need is social involvement. A few ideas:

1. Get involved immediately in the stake senior M Man-Gleaner program.

2. Check out the nearest institute of religion to see if the classes, as well as the age group of the students, are agreeable.

3. Attend firesides and other activities that bring new faces together.

4. Chat with your bishop or branch president.

Older single girls should be asked to participate and share their training or experience. Often they have advanced skills in many fields and are walking libraries of helpful information on vocations, job opportunities, and necessary schooling. They can generously assist in countless projects and answer many questions for students about living alone or away from home, living conditions in given areas, and related situations.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Jerry Harston