When they arrive at college, most students will encounter some challenge to the beliefs they learned from their parents and their faith community at home. Most obvious is the threat posed by the party scene, "hook-up" culture, and other forms of rampant, thoughtless hedonism that prevail at many schools—even some with religious affiliations. Human nature is a constant, and everyone is a sinner; schools that don't take account of this by creating wholesome conditions for student life are essentially washing their hands of one key mission of a college: aiding in the personal development and maturing of their students. Schools that permit overnight stays by members of the opposite sex, that provide co-ed dorm floors and even bathrooms, are sending a message to their students: We don't care about your personal life. It has no relevance to the life of the mind, which is split off from the body like a ghost inside a machine. Schools where alcohol and drug abuse are prevalent pose a danger also to the mind, and even to students' safety.
This much is clear to anyone who has watched his parents' copy of Animal House. Subtler pitfalls exist in the classroom and the college coffee house. It's healthy and right that intellectual challenges should arise to the religious faith one brings along to college. Brilliant minds have differed profoundly over the existential issues posed by faith, revealed religion, and traditional codes of morality—and it's only right that students encounter new and strange opinions in the course of college study. However, at too many schools, Western religions are treated as an object not of inquiry but of contempt, and people of Jewish or Christian faith are not intellectually challenged so much as belittled. Faculties of departments which might not contain a single religious believer, who move in the narrow world of other academics, can fall into a secular chauvinism. The only people of faith to whom teachers might be exposed are TV preachers and terrorists, and the notion that someone of equal or higher IQ might actually cling to “outmoded” tenets of ancient faiths seems almost unthinkable. So sometimes they pepper their lectures with condescending references to "bible-thumpers," "patriarchal white male celibates," and other terms of derision; they present the history of the West as a progress from superstition and oppression toward the bold enlightenment of post-1960s liberalism; if the past is "another country," they act like vulgar tourists, knocking over statues and laughing at the temples. Fellow students might also regard religious believers as quaintly naïve or sadly repressed. Beyond exerting pressure to take part in unhealthy or immoral conduct—which college students should be mature enough to resist—they can help drive people of faith into a kind of closet.
To handle all these challenges, it's essential that religious students find a healthy network of others who share their faith. Sometimes this can happen in the obvious place: the campus ministry of the creed in which one was raised. But this is not the no-brainer it should be. At many, many colleges the campus ministry is staffed by those who dissent from core beliefs of the faith they claim to represent. Perhaps it's the pressure of trying to fit in with and "remain relevant" to a secular, liberal campus; in many cases, religious denominations shunt off their most problematic or heterodox clerics to serve on campus—where it's hoped they will "cause less trouble." (What a brilliant idea—spare the suburbs but corrupt tomorrow's elite!) For these and other reasons, students should be skeptical about official campus ministries. They should sniff around, ask probing questions, pore carefully over the literature that's offered. How reverent and substantive are its services? Does social activism displace religious reflection, as happens at far too many campus chapels?
If the ministry seems more in tune with the secular campus than with the official tenets of the faith, students should run—not walk—to a more faithful local, off-campus congregation. It's usually easy to find out online where's the nearest orthodox outpost. While students might not be praying alongside too many of their classmates, they will at least get moral and intellectual support. To find fellow-travelers on campus, they should look to student organizations—including pro-life, pro-family, and other groups that unite people who at least share their moral values, even if they differ concerning scriptures and traditions. It is here that one can make lasting friends, have meaningful debates with people who might share their premises but not their conclusions, and perhaps even find a spouse. In the wild, uncharted territory students explore through their college years, such groups can prove a safe oasis.