As a future student, finding communities that line up with your interests and identity is important. For some, religion or spirituality may play a role; whether it’s something you’re learning more about or a current cornerstone in your life.
No matter where you are in your religious or spiritual journey, communities at CSU and in the surrounding area are happy to meet you where you’re at. We sat down with members of three religious communities for CSU students — The Islamic Center of Fort Collins, Cru, and CSU Hillel, to learn more about the experience and how you can get involved.
Shakir Muhammad, The Islamic Center of Fort Collins
Position in Organization
Member and Spokesperson
Muslim but all are welcome
What is the Islamic Center of Fort Collins?
The Islamic Center of Fort Collins is a nonprofit organization which takes care of the religious and social needs of the Muslim community.
We take care of religious rituals, which is culminated in Friday prayer, a weekly congregational prayer. We perform two; one at noon and at 1:00pm. We also perform five daily prayers. In summer they are far apart; in the winter they are closer to one another and the latest is at 6:00pm. We give time for people to come from work and get ready so we pray at 7:00pm. We also have Islamic study programs and a Sunday school for kids.
We get probably 500 people in attendance and roughly 80% of our community is affiliated with CSU. They may be doing research or are professors, associate professors, undergraduates or postgraduates.
Current students say that this is the place for community for Muslim students at CSU. Is that true?
Yes, this is a place for the Muslim students on campus to congregate all in one place. Being from different countries, they are more than likely to meet someone from their country here at the Mosque — definitely someone from their faith here at the Mosque more than any other place in town. So if you want to congregate and speak your language with anyone on campus this is the central location to do it.
We also really try to help postgraduate and undergraduate students settle themselves here in Fort Collins.
Often we get messages through our Facebook page from new students who get here early to get situated but can’t move into campus housing yet. Usually we pair them up with people from that region. So if a Pakistani guy messages us and needs a place to say, we usually contact Pakistani students and say, ‘Hey guys, do you have a couch he can sleep on for three days?’ We also pair students up with someone in their department.
We also network postgraduates with community professionals to help them send out their resume or help with internships.
What do students say about how this Center has impacted their time at CSU?
We allow students when they leave town or graduate to give a small talk after the prayer and just say how their time here was. All of them relish the time they’ve had here, whether it be off or on-campus and definitely in regards to the Center.
We had one guy from Sudan who finished up his Ph.D. here. From a religious point of view, we have people from all over the world [here at the Mosque], and he said that in Sudan he never got to meet a Chinese Muslim or Indonesian Muslim. During his time here he was able to meet those cross-sections of Muslims and got to be brothers and friends just for the sake of being brothers and friends, not for any personal gain.
What would you say to prospective students of Muslim faith about the community here?
They will find a very welcoming and open-minded community here in Northern Colorado. I have not heard a bad report from anyone’s stay here in Fort Collins. People are welcome and most people know about Muslims.
We had a Libyan and an Iraqi student who were stuck out of the country [during the travel ban] and CSU really did its best. The President of CSU [Tony Frank] actually came here to the Center to talk to the community.
We had a vandalism here [last year], and 1,000 people here in the community came out and showed support for us.
Regarding the Muslim community, we are a source of support and counseling for students. A lot of students are away from home and their country for the first time. We really have taken the role of mentors and problem-solvers for the students when they arrive in town. We have also met parents; when they drop off their students they are relieved that there’s a sizeable Mosque here in town so their children can be a part of it while they’re here studying.
There are also several Muslim restaurants with a similar idea to kosher, not exactly kosher. We have Petra Grill, Maza Kabob, and Tikka Grill, which is actually owned by a researcher at CSU. They serve halal food and many Muslim students like that because you want something that reminds you of home.
[CSU also offers an on-campus Kosher Bistro located in the Parmelee Dining Hall.]
If someone is looking to get involved what are the first steps they should take?
Contact the Center and also on campus there are other Muslim groups or country-based groups, like the Pakistani, Indonesian, Libyan and Saudi Student Associations. More than likely they’re going to find a student association group from their country or region they can connect with and find friends with.
All of those groups, they come to the Mosque here. So we’re still the focal point for religious activity and they’re more the focal point for social and student activity.
Chase Helseth, Cru
Position in Organization
Christian but all students welcome
What is Cru?
Cru came from Campus Crusade for Christ. It’s been around at CSU since the 50s. It’s a Christian ministry here on campus that’s devoted to community and also outreach; very much a mission-focused organization. They’re all over the world and actually one of the largest nonprofits in the world.
Our mantra is ‘come as you are’. Even though it’s a Christian organization, we don’t want anyone who’s coming to feel like they have to have a set of beliefs or set experiences. You can find community on campus and grow in your faith, then ultimately go out and share that with others.
What’s involvement in CRU look like?
We have a weekly meeting every Thursday night in Johnson Hall where about 200 of us come and hang out, worship or listen to a speaker, and maybe get pizza after. It’s a good time to meet people. We also really like our small groups — those are with people in your class that meet once a week. We have a lot of those all over campus and it’s a way to build that tighter community.
There are a lot of opportunities for conferences. do a fall retreat in Estes, go to a winter conference in Denver, and drive cross-country to Panama City Beach, FL for spring break.
Over the summer there are opportunities to serve on missions stateside or internationally. We’ve had students go to San Diego, Slovakia, and South Africa. You can pair it with study abroad, too.
What was it like getting involved as a new student?
I saw CRU at the [Lory Student Center] plaza my freshman year. It [Christianity] was a big part of my life and something I wanted in college — a Christian group. I saw them and I’d heard of Cru before so went to talk to them and got plugged in.
We try to meet new students the first week of classes out on the plaza. We do a big pizza feed and free Chik-Fil-A for freshman and you can fill out a survey. If you express interest and want to learn more than we’ll follow up with you.
How has Cru impacted your time here at CSU?
It’s very much been my home on campus. It’s the people I love and I’ve been able to grow and have a lot of community.
The guy that led my freshman small group, I was in his wedding this summer. The people I live with are in Cru, too. It’s been my fit on campus — you can find community all over campus but for me, it’s been Cru.
It offers a lot of mentorship; the word we use in Cru is Disciple. The ability to be poured into — it’s been really cool to see people invest in my life as I have grown up. We’re able to challenge each other and grow with each other and ask questions. We have a deep connection. We share something very important to us that we’ve put as important in our lives, since it’s a public campus the people that do it are seeking it out. You don’t have to have a specific belief at all, but it’s cool that we’re all seeking that together.
What would you say to a new student looking to get involved – what are first steps they should take?
The most important thing to know is that you can come as you are. We want you to grow spiritually and are welcoming.
Future students can connect with us now or find us at the Lory Student Center Plaza during their first week on campus. Also always feel free to stop into our weekly meetings in Johnson Hall or come to a small group.
Position in Organization
Jewish but all students welcome
What is Hillel at CSU?
CSU Hillel is part of a network of 550 Hillels internationally. Our core mission is to create a home-away-from-home for students. We have a student-led and staff supported model.
We’re co-creating Jewish student life, whether it’s around holidays or a social event. For example, today with our seniors, graduates, and young professionals in town we’ll be doing a HeBrewery tour. We go to New Belgium and the Jewish Brewmaster there gives us a private tour.
Of course we gather for holidays and Passover but we also have social events and networking. Our Hillel house is also a hangout spot — students might just be studying (or procrastinating) or just watching Netflix. Our student leadership staff have 24/7 access to our house and sometimes let students in simply for a quiet place to study.
What’s it like getting involved as a new student?
You can expect to feel welcomed just walking into the door for any event. The idea is we pride ourselves on hospitality – we don’t want a cliquey environment. Whether people come in for the first time or the tenth time we want them to feel at home.
We really pride ourselves on hospitality – in our case Abrahamic hospitality: Hachnasat Orchim. This is what Abraham and Sarah were famous for — they had a door open at each side of their tent so guests wouldn’t even have to walk a few extra steps. In the Torah, there are stories of Abraham washing his guests’ feet and hands and giving them food and water and drink. So that’s what we do every Friday for Shabbat when we feed dozens of Jewish students (we don’t wash their feet these days!), which is the Sabbath.
Especially for Friday dinners, we try to make it an inclusive environment. When students are cooking, we make sure we have vegan and gluten-free options or allergic to something. We have options for everybody.
What would you say to students of Jewish faith about the community here?
There’s a small but mighty community here. There are around 30,000 students on campus. The Jewish number is around 500 students. That’s actually the American average, two percent.
Of those 500 Jewish students here at CSU, I personally know of 300 or 350 of them. Those 350 are people who might come to one gathering a year. As we dig in a bit, there’s about 100 to 150 who come to Hillel regularly, and there are 50 to 75 who are highly engaged, coming on a weekly or monthly basis to Shabbat dinners and Taco Tuesdays or other things we do.
We have a Kosher Bistro in Parmelee Hall now [a residence hall here on campus]. As I previously mentioned, the Hillel House is open for students to explore their Jewish identity, and we have a rental next door which now houses Jewish brothers from our Jewish fraternity on campus — AEPi. Our Jewish sorority, SAEPi, also has some sisters who live nearby. So we’re kind of starting a Jewish neighborhood.
There are three Rabbinically-led communities in town across the spectrum of observance. A lot of my students will become Hebrew teachers at the preschools.
We noticed Hillel House has chickens in the backyard! Why chickens?
A lot of students in Colorado and at CSU particularly are really passionate about sustainability. It’s important that students have different outlets to engage with their Jewish identity. So we started incorporating reusable plates and utensils for our Shabbat dinners to reduce our waste. Then last year, students planted a garden and built a rotary composter for our waste. Our most recent step was getting the chickens. We’re not only the first Hillel to become certified sustainable, we’re the first student organization to be certified sustainable at CSU. This is out of 550 Hillels internationally and 500 student organizations on campus.
So now we have this cycle — we have a garden used to feed Jews and friends for our events, then the waste goes to the chickens or compost, then waste from compost and chickens goes to the garden to make food. We currently have two chickens and could have six, but we’re trouble-shooting right now before we get more. Students come by at night to feed and water them, and there’s a parent in Lafayette that is willing to donate four more.
What are some first steps to take for those interested in Hillel?
New students can connect with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org at any time. We also do a lot on social media and have a blog. New students tend to hear about us through word-of-mouth via current Jewish students and their networks. Someone may invite a friend or boyfriend/girlfriend or roommate. We also table at the involvement expo each fall. We are looking to get connected to more tabling opportunities as well.