By Jessi Emmert - OSV Newsweekly, 9/9/2012
A frequent concern for parents who are dropping their student off at college for the first time is how their child will avoid the stereotypical pitfalls of university life. Alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, excessive video gaming and pornography are perceived as widespread on many college campuses. With so many temptations, it’s hard not to worry about how your child will handle being on his own for the first time.
A study from the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate revealed that one way to ease these concerns is by sending your student to a Catholic college. Students who attend Catholic colleges are more likely to attend Mass every week, register with a parish and be interested in becoming a priest or nun than those who attend non-Catholic colleges, both public and private.
Our Sunday Visitor visited the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind., to see if students there thought attending a Catholic college played a major part in their university experience.
USF enrolls about 2,300 students in majors ranging from the liberal arts, to the creative arts, to the health sciences. It was founded in 1890 in Lafayette, Ind., before moving to Fort Wayne in 1944. The university aims to engage a diverse community in learning, leadership and service.
The three students OSV interviewed are role models on their campus, serve in leadership positions and have avoided the ever-present temptations of the “party life.” Here are some of their thoughts on following a Godly path as a student and avoiding the common pitfalls of a college campus.
For Mary Brokaw, running is a motivation to avoid the temptations of college. As a member of USF’s track and cross country teams, Brokaw makes a daily decision to use her body to glorify God instead of indulging in alcohol.
“You’re just going to ruin your body, when you should be preserving it and growing in Christ,” she said.
Brokaw explained that she feels there is too much at stake for her to participate in parties with sinful activity.
“You’re going to stray away from your studies and get so behind when you’re out partying and not getting regular sleep. Ultimately your grades are going to fail, you’re not going to be able to keep up athletic ability.”
When offers to attend parties where she knows there will be drugs and alcohol come up, Brokaw said her automatic response is to turn to prayer.
By strengthening her prayer life, Brokaw has found a God-given sense of peace and developed her own spiritual discipline.
“I turn to God, ask him to make me strong and use that time for prayer,” she said. “If I know something is coming up, I say I’m going to the chapel, sorry, it’s planned. Then I go and spend that time there — it’s peaceful and I know I’m doing the right thing.”
Brokaw said activities at USF have played a major part in helping her stay on a healthy and clean path. The campus offers athletic and social events through every season of the school year.
“They have a lot of weekend activities, they have intramurals, they have a lot of football games, a lot of sporting events you can go to during the week,” Brokaw said. “During the fall and spring there’s homecoming and spring fling.”
These alternatives to student-thrown parties are “everywhere.”
Brokaw feels that her determination to stay clean has played a major part in how she avoids temptation.
“For me, it’s really important that I stay focused and stay clear of all those distractions,” she said. “Overall I just continue to use my body toward Christ and my running.”
Aside from her ambitious athletic pursuits, Brokaw is also involved with campus ministry. She participates in Bible studies on campus and theology clubs, which she said was important to her growth in faith.
Brokaw said she would strongly encourage new students to make Mass a priority. Going to Mass, she explained, was a way for her to maintain her strong faith and not fall into temptation.
She acknowledged that scheduling 45 minutes a day for Mass can sometimes be a challenge for her, but she believes it is worth it.
“Take that time, receive Christ as often as you can — that’s going to make you more peaceful and stronger in defending what you know is right.”
Jaxson Burkins is only 20, but he’s about to enter his final year of college. With some summer classes, Burkins will graduate in only three years with an undergraduate degree in chemistry. He plans on pursuing pharmaceutical school.
It’s his determination and refusal to become distracted from his academics that has gotten him so far, so fast. He said his faith has played a major factor in his success.
“My faith is very important,” he said. “I do as much as I can to strengthen that and I know that, while going out to parties and skipping class is fun, faith isn’t easy. It teaches me discipline, not just in faith but in everyday life.”
The biggest challenge college students will deal with, Burkins said, is the sudden freedom they have.
“There isn’t anybody forcing you to go to class anymore, forcing you to do your homework,” he said.
Many students can’t handle this newfound freedom and that’s what leads to the party lifestyle.
Burkins, however, was highly motivated to stay on top of his studies and avoid the pitfalls so many college students fall into.
“From day one, I knew I couldn’t do that,” Burkins said. “I made sure to get involved right away. For me, if I know that I don’t have a lot of time to do something, I can’t procrastinate. I know I don’t have time later, so I have to do it now.”
For students who don’t have the instinctual drive he does, Burkins said he often sees them struggling to learn how to balance academic and social pursuits.
“All the time I see guys just skipping class and playing videos games, sleeping, watching TV, saying up late,” he said. “They don’t have anyone to hold them accountable anymore. They have professors, but not their parents to push them along and make sure they are doing everything they need to be doing.”
For students, many of them still teenagers who have only been out of high school a few months, this is a lot of pressure, Burkins said.
“A lot of people want to meet new people, they want to go out and have friends since, if they are the only person at this school from their high school, they don’t know anyone,” he said.
Burkins admitted that even on a Catholic campus, the temptation of alcohol is constantly present.
“Even within the first couple of weekends, you’re going to get invited to parties thrown by upperclassmen,” he said. “Living in the residence halls, some people just walk the hall and say ‘Hey, party going on, let’s go!’”
The best way to decline these types of invitations is to find other ways to keep yourself busy, Burkins said. When he started college, he made it a priority to get involved with lots of organizations on campus as a way to make new friends and understand what was happening at USF.
One aspect of campus life Burkins chose to become involved with was campus ministry.
“Spiritually, it’s one of the biggest helps. I knew I wanted to do that even when I was in high school. Coming to college I knew that would help me grow spiritually,” he said.
Burkins said his academic, social and spiritual desires and activities all combined to make him strong enough to resist the temptation of late nights and wild parties.
His No. 1 piece of advice to incoming freshmen?
“Get involved,” he said.
He also encouraged new students to use the campus staff and faculty as a resource.
“They want you to be successful, they aren’t out to get you,” he said, “They will do everything necessary as long as you ask them. They aren’t your parents, they aren’t going to shove anything down your throat, but if you ask for help, they’ll give it to you.”
Burkins attributed his choices in part to the way he was raised and his family.
“My parents have been great examples for me,” he said. “They set a great example of not going out all the time and spending time with us. They made sure we felt loved. When I went to college, I sought that similar love and situation.”
Burkins shared the deeply personal story of why alcohol has never been part of his life.
“My mom actually lost her mom to alcoholism right after I was born — she died like two weeks after I was born,” he said. “My parents are not drinkers at all, we never had alcohol in our house.”
This story has served as a reminder to him of the dangers of alcohol, and is a motivation for him to stay clean and focus on enjoying the best parts of college.
As Stacey Litchfield reflected on the mistakes many college students make, her voice shook with tenderness. The biggest struggle for young people at universities, she said, is chasing love in the wrong places.
“Instead of basing their decisions off of truth,” she said, “they base it off society. They end up making poor decisions, with alcohol especially.”
Litchfield said this was a struggle she dealt with in her first year of college. Eventually, she learned to place her value outside of what other people thought.
“When I make my decisions I have to base it off of fruit,” she said, “not off of what society sees.”
Looking for love in the wrong place is a problem that is especially pertinent with young college-aged women, Litchfield explained.
“They are trying to find love in the wrong place,” she said. “Giving themselves not as much credit as they deserve.”
The consequences of putting so much value in alcohol or drugs are devastating, and Litchfield said she has seen many women make poor decisions that end up hurting them, but don’t bring them any closer to finding real love.
For Litchfield, finding a close-knit community of those who share the same values can make all the difference. Having friends who share the same values as her gives her a strong support system to avoid temptation and seek real love, she said.
One way she has found community is through a retreat USF has each spring and fall.
“It’s called Koinonia, which means ‘community’ in Greek,” she said. “I always go on these retreats. It’s a place for us to be comfortable being who we are.”
When the group returns from the retreats, Litchfield said, there is always a strong sense of unity among them. The retreat prepares them for when they return to normal campus life, where the other students may not have such high standards.
Litchfield has also become involved in many faith-based groups, both on and off campus. Staying busy with positive activities helps her to resist falling astray due to loneliness or societal pressure.
It also gives her a chance to give back to the community.
“Last Easter I went to Chicago and did missions during Holy Week,” she said. “Whatever opportunities there are for me to serve or to build my faith, I don’t want them to pass me by.”
Litchfield’s plans to go to Rome in December on pilgrimage. She said she feels blessed by the opportunity to go, and that USF is partially sponsoring her. Three other USF students will join her, as will many others from across the U.S.
Many incoming freshmen don’t realize their own value, Litchfield said. Because of this, they allow subpar activities to consume their time and cave easily to peer pressure.
She encourages new students to appreciate their own worth.
“You are created in the image of God,” she said, “You have so much value. Get involved early and don’t make your decisions based on the poor decisions others will make.”
Jessi Emmert is OSV Newsweekly’s intern.
Please note: Comments left online may be considered for publication in the Letters to the Editor section of OSV Newsweekly.
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