Less Than Welcoming: Navigating the Challenges of a “Closed Campus”

Tiffany Hudson, Scott Winter
Tents line walkways on college campus

The welcome that a ministry receives on campus can vary anywhere from very warm to completely closed off. Here we discuss what it is like to serve on a “not as accessible” campus. Tiffany Hudson of Vanderbilt BCM in Tennessee and Scott Winter, who serves with Christian Challenge on a community college in Arizona share some of their experiences of working on a difficult campus. 

Describe the atmosphere on campus for Christian groups and groups in general. 

Tiffany: At Vanderbilt there is a heightened focus on diversity and inclusion; however, this does not always translate to Christian groups.  I have been encouraged by the work and ministry of various Christian groups on campus and have found increasingly more believers living out their faith on campus, despite the generally secularized environment. 

Scott: On our campus, no group is allowed to hold any type of event on campus for the first two weeks. The administration has decided it is a “distraction” for students who are getting into a new routine. Every group has struggled with meeting students post-COVID, because the overall push towards online learning has made students reluctant to get involved. All student groups, in order to table on campus, must have a faculty advisor present. As you can imagine, this makes things very challenging! On top of these rules, our group experienced complete hostility, because we are Christian. 

How has working with student life or the administration been? Any suggestions for navigating that? 

Tiffany: At Vanderbilt, our Baptist Collegiate Ministry is not a recognized student organization due to some policies and guidelines that do not align with our biblical values.  However, as a campus minister with a denominational affiliation, the university considers me the Baptist Chaplain and I participate in meetings under the Center for Spiritual and Religious Life. It is vital to me to maintain a good working relationship with the university, administration, and faculty/staff.  As a non-registered student organization we make it our mission to love our campus well and follow the guidelines of recognized organizations as closely as possible; it is our goal to help the university see that BCM is valuable to campus life at Vanderbilt.   

Scott: Overall, our school does want clubs and wants students to be a part of campus life, but the student life office is very protective, trying to block anything that might be controversial. (“Controversial” being things that more typically fall on the socially conservative scale.) When we first started, they told us they didn’t want a Christian group on campus, because they were a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” We just work hard focusing on relationships. We form relationships with every student we can, leaders in other groups, and work hard to meet every teacher on campus. We call it a “ministry of hospitality.” We give out a lot of things, which gives us a chance to meet students and teachers.

How have you connected with students on campus? 

Tiffany: We work social media really hard in the summer, seeking incoming first-year students, offering a “welcome to Nashville” gift in the mail, and connecting new students with current students.  Additionally, we are strategic in planning a packed welcome week of events that complements the university’s schedule.  We look at the schedule produced by the university for incoming students and seek to find the gaps and areas that don’t interfere with already scheduled events but that will help our organization maximize the first weeks of school. 

Scott: When we table, we just keep saying “hi” to students every single time, and students will eventually stop to talk. When we get their contact info, we message them on Instagram or with a text, and try to set up Gospel Appointments with them. Also, one of the best ways I have found to meet students is through taking classes on campus. Being a student helps with the administrative tasks the school requires a student to do for a student group, like reserving rooms, etc. But being in the classroom gives me a chance to meet students! And I work on meeting every single student in the class. I choose super easy classes and take them pass/fail, and the benefits for our ministry are huge! I can’t recommend it enough. 

What advice would you give to someone working in a similar situation? 

Tiffany: Our BCM motto is Love. Serve. Disciple.  It is my goal as a campus minister to lead our students in loving and serving our campus well.  I want there to be no question if challenges or conflict arise that our organization as a whole is one of love and kindness.  In my opinion, we must love and serve well (particularly non-believers) so we have the opportunity to one day disciple well. 

Scott: We follow the rules, and we have a good relationship with the administration. We have worked hard to meet other students in other clubs. Our goal is to be nice, and to build relationships. We typically don’t share the Gospel when we have a table, but save that for our one-on-one conversations, so that we can avoid being declared “not safe.” We do give out copies of the book of John. And again, I highly recommend taking a class on campus. The best part is you get invited to every event, every campus survey and you stay in the know!

What exciting things have you seen on your campus, despite these challenges? 

Tiffany: One of my favorite things about serving at Vanderbilt University is the comradery, companionship, and community that exists amongst Christian organizations of varying denominations and theological beliefs.  This exists amongst the student population as well as with staff leaders; it’s a picture of heaven and I really love it. 

Scott: Students are engaging with us! We have been invited into classrooms and been able to share with various teams. In the classrooms, I’ve made friends with teachers, and have had amazing opportunities to share the Gospel. With the sport teams, we’ve provided food, and been given the chance to share about who we are and what we believe. We have come up with creative ways to meet students and have seen great results. God makes a way if you are diligent and show up! 

Tiffany Hudson serves as Baptist Collegiate Minister at Vanderbilt University. She can be reached at thudson@tnbaptist.org and you can follow their ministry on Instagram @bcmatvp. Scott Winter serves with Christian Challenge in Arizona and can be reached at Scott@ChallengeAZ.com. You can follow the ministry on Instagram @Christianchallengesmcc. 

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