January 29, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 44°F


Spiritual communities grow on campus

Junior Christopher Accardo, president of the IC Buddhist Community, leans back in his chair in the administrative office of Muller Chapel. He pushes a calendar toward the end of the desk.

“This used to have two, maybe three things on it per week,” he said.  “Now the chapel is always being used by different organizations.”

The packed schedule for the Muller Chapel reflects an increase in student affiliations with on-campus religious organizations. Membership with these groups has increased at Ithaca College and has included a rise in popularity of the IC Buddhist Community.

While the chapel does not keep membership records, Father Carsten Martensen, a pastor at the college, said he has witnessed this rise in religious activity firsthand.

“With the Catholic Community, we have an increase in students that are participating in Sunday worship,” he said.  “We’re close to 100 or more students at the 9 p.m. mass, which is up from last year.”

This rise is in accordance with a seven-year national study conducted by UCLA that shows young adults become more spiritual in college. The study observed the role that college plays in increasing one’s spirituality and how students’ beliefs change.

Martensen said the increase in religious affiliations among students has led to the creation of the Interfaith Council, an on-campus group made up of students from several different religions, even those that are not official Ithaca College organizations. The mission of the Interfaith Council is to promote harmony and tolerance for all religous groups.

“It’s always very respectful,” Martensen said. “And an interfaith presence on campus is one of the bigger things that makes the religious communities on campus an attractive thing.”

Junior Hunter Tom, co-chair of the Protestant Community Council, said the recent rise in interest in the Interfaith Council is the result of the desire for a welcoming and engaging on-campus community.

“I’ve seen an increase in learning about, sharing and celebrating their culture and religious beliefs,” he said. “There’s definitely been an increase in the Protestant community and in the other communities as well.”

Tom said part of council’s appeal for students stems from recent initiatives by on-campus religious communities to advertise.  Hillel, the Protestant Community and other groups have created a presence at OSEMA-sponsored organization fairs, but the most effective advertising comes from the students themselves, Tom said.

Sophomore Jason Kleban, president of Hillel at the college, said talking to people in person can be the most effective form of advertising for the group.

“[Hillel] has started doing more Facebook advertising for our events, but word of mouth is also one of the better ways,” he said. “Every time I see someone who I know is Jewish or is a member of Hillel or just might be interested in a program, I go up to them and say, ‘Hey, this is coming up, and you might be interested.’”

Becca Neidle, a peer minister in the Ithaca College Catholic Community, has utilized social media to promote events but said advertising for new members is not the group’s main focus.

“We’re always trying to get more people involved,” Neidle said. “We’re always trying to put on events that would engage people in a way they wouldn’t necessarily be.”

Martensen said he hopes
every student is able to find a spiritual community where they are
welcome and is happy this trend does not apply to a specific type of student.

“It’s just across the board,” Martensen said.  “We don’t ask for membership cards or anything. Everyone is welcome.”

Despite advertising and active recruitment, the main appeal for students is a physical community close by, as well as the opportunity to meet like-minded students, Tom said.

“Religious communities provide an outlet for people to meet and to gather, and that’s huge,” Tom said. “So even if you’re on Facebook or you’re texting, having this physical community is something we need.”