Religion at CSU: There’s a place for you

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 is already a 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

Blog Header: Shakir Muhammad
Position in organization: Member and Spokesperson
Student organization? No
Religious affiliation: Muslim but all are welcome

What is the Islamic Center of Fort Collins?

The Islamic Center of Fort Collins is a nonprofit organization that takes care of the religious and social needs of the Muslim community. We take care of religious rituals, which culminates in Friday prayer, a weekly congregational prayer. We perform two: one at noon and at one at 1:00pm. We also perform five daily prayers. In summer they are far apart; in the winter they are closer to one another. 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 grad students.

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 a great place to start.

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.

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. We had one guy from Sudan who finished his PhD at CSU. From a religious point of view, we have people from all over the world come to 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 people from other cultures who had common religious ground.

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 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 actually came to talk to the community. In addition, we had a vandalism occur here and nearly a thousand people 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.

If someone is looking to get involved what are the first steps they should take?

Contact the Center or look on campus for other Muslim groups or country-based groups, like the Pakistani,  Indonesian, Libyan and Saudi Student Associations. More than likely you’ll find a student association group from their country or region to connect with and find friends. All of these groups come to our mosque, 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

Blog Header: Chase Helseth
Position in organization: President
Student organization: Yes
Religious affiliation: 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 on campus that’s devoted to community and 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.

What’s involvement in Cru look like?

We have a weekly meeting where everyone comes to 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 smaller weekly groups, where people in the same academic year can meet. 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, like a fall retreat in Estes Park, a winter conference in Denver, and even one in Panama City Beach, Florida, 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 in Cru as a new student?

I saw Cru at the Lory Student Center plaza my freshman year. Christianity was a big part of my life and something I wanted in my college life. 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 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. For example, the guy that led my freshman small group asked me to be in his wedding. The people I live with are in Cru, too. It’s been my fit on campus and off. Plus, 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 and we share something that’s very important to us.

What would you say to a new student looking to get involved?

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 or come to a small group.

Alex Amchislavskiy, CSU Hillel

Jewish organizations at CSU include the Chabad Jewish Student Organization and CSU Hillel. We encourage using Ramlink to explore additional communities.

Blog Header: Alex Amchi
Position in organization: Campus Director
Student Organization? Yes
Religious affiliation: Jewish but all students welcome

What is Hillel at CSU?

CSU Hillel is part of a network of hundreds of international Hillels. Our core mission is to create a home away from home for our 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. 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 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 be.

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. In fact, 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.

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, 500 of which are Jewish. That’s actually the American average, two percent.

We have kosher dining options on campus, and 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.

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. We planted a garden and built a rotary composter for our waste. Our most-recent step, however, was getting 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.

What are some first steps to take for those interested in Hillel?

New students can connect with us by emailing hillel@colostate.edu 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.

Searching for a community that aligns with your beliefs?

Browse through our many student organizations or contact our diversity centers.

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Jill Baylis

Jill was a staff member in the Office of Admissions until 2019 when she moved to Denver. As a first-generation college student, she focused on simplifying the college admissions process and helping future Rams find community on campus.