Freshman Niki Ang grew up in a Christian home. She said her parents were the first to teach her about God, but it wasn’t until Ang was 16 that she began to believe in a higher power.
“Jesus became who he was to me personally, it became my own thing,” said the visual and media arts major. “It honestly changed my life.”
When she decided to come to Emerson, she said she was looking for a place where she could practice Christianity without the strict religious rhetoric. That’s when she found the Emerson Good News Fellowship (EGNF), a religious group on campus that meets every Sunday for Bible study and prayer.
President of Emerson Good News Fellowship Kate Caldwell, a junior writing, literature and publishing major, said she’s noticed a significant increase in members since she first joined the group her freshman year.
“When I first came to Emerson, [EGNF] looked very different,” she said. “There weren’t as many people involved, and so I tried to be in it, but it wasn’t really an active group.”
Last year, for example, according to the group’s Financial Advisory Board packet, Emerson Good News Fellowship had listed 43 members. For this year’s packet, Caldwell said she expects the group will have closer to 70 members listed because of its efforts.
During orientation week, students who are interested are taken out for coffee by group members to talk about their freshman years and explain what the community is about, Caldwell said.
“That’s one of the biggest things that we are doing now,” Caldwell said. “Emerson isn’t the most hospitable place for people of faith. You can tell by walking around the campus that it isn’t really the culture here.”
Ang also said she thinks sometimes it is hard for religious students to practice their beliefs in an environment that isn’t unison in faith.
“It’s not easy coming here and having to go to a school where there are a lot of people with a lot of different views,” she said. “I think that’s fine, but I’ve learned to not let it intimidate me.”
For students who practice Judaism, or are interested in the Jewish culture, Hillel is another religious organization that participates in activities, cultural celebrations, and holiday services together.
Hillel and Jewish advisor Karen Nahary said its mission is to provide a place for students where they can practice some Jewish traditions, like religious dinners or holidays, in a community while they are away from home.
“A lot of the students that come to our events are seeking a little taste of home, but also a way to continue their connection with Judaism,” she said.
Though the number is approximate, according to Nahary last semester 85 students were on Hillel’s email list. This semester, the number has grown by 25.
The group hosts Shabbat dinners, Friday meals that are always 100 percent kosher. On holidays, it provides services and hosts other fun social events, according to Nahary.
When asked if she thinks it’s hard for students to continue practicing their faith in college, Nahary said from her experience at the Center for Spiritual Life, Emerson students often come to the center to fill a religious obligation they miss from home.
Freshman performing arts major Serena Kassow said she thinks Hillel is a wonderful thing for Emerson by educating students about the Jewish culture.
“We’re open to everybody,” she said. “We focus on the cultural side of Judaism rather than the religious side, just so it’s more educational than exclusive.”
Kassow, whose mother is the Hillel director at Trinity College in Hartford, said the group was definitely an attraction for her when she first got on campus.
“It was something I really wanted to be involved in,” Kassow explained. “I grew up there, and it was just such an amazing experience.”
While Emerson’s Catholic Newman Club hasn’t seen a dramatic increase in members, Catholic Chaplain and Newman Club advisor Kristelle Angelli said the club has developed a strong, consistent group of 10 to twenty members.
“Our numbers aren’t huge; I would say we have more of a core group of people now,” she said. “But we have seen a slight increase. Percentage wise, we’ve probably doubled.”
Four years ago, Newman Club only had five to seven members, according to Angelli.
However, Angelli said the main goal of the club is not to increase their numbers, but to spread awareness of Newman on campus.
“We want everybody to know that there’s Mass on campus every Sunday, and that there’s a Catholic community here at Emerson” she said. “Letting students know what we do is our main goal.”
The Newman Club has also changed in the past four years by adding a number of events, from hosting Mass every Sunday in the Multi-Purpose Room, to taking members on a spring break service trip through organizations like the Christian Appalachian Project.
But it is hard to practice religion in college, according to sophomore marketing major and President of Newman Olivia Martiniello. She said being a part of a religious organization definitely helped her keep her faith.
“I would say if I didn’t have Newman, I would have lost touch with my Catholic values,” Martiniello said. “Emerson students are so busy, and if I didn’t have those meetings and Mass to push me, I would have put it off.”