Religious student groups on campus fulfill students’ needs

Many students struggle to retain permanent members

The University of Winnipeg’s Muslim prayer room is just one of many religious spaces that the school offers its students. Jordan Janisse

For a school that started out as a Christian college, many would be surprised to know that the University of Winnipeg offers a variety of religious resources for students.

A chapel, Muslim prayer room and interfaith room are just a few features the university offers.

Along with these facilities, there are various religious student groups on campus providing students with support for their faiths.

“We wanted to have a place for students who share or are interested in the Catholic faith to learn more about it,” said Peter Slivinski, co-leader of the Catholic Outreach Group at the U of W.

Lukas Thiessen had the same idea when he started the U of W Atheist Students’ Association, noting the prevalence of Christian groups at schools across the country.

“Lots of schools have religious student groups but none for non-religious groups,” he noted. “So I started one for them, and thought I could organize one for Buddhists or Hindus or anything.”

Thiessen later found himself identifying as an atheist and growing the group’s members through Facebook.

Retaining active members is a difficult task for these groups, whose official member numbers often don’t reflect who attends meetings.

“When we’ve got a small group of students, it is hard to get people to commit to something (outside) of their own jobs and university assignments,” Slivinski said.  “Some meet for a while but leave around midterm time.”

When we’ve got a small group of students, it is hard to get people to commit to something out of their own jobs and university assignments.

Peter Slivinski, co-leader of the Catholic Outreach Group at the U of W

In 2008, reverend and U of W theology professor Dr. James Christie’s work resulted in the permanent Muslim prayer room in Lockhart Hall, supporting the university’s Muslim students and religiously diverse population.

“Out of those 36 (student groups on campus), we have four groups that affiliate with a religion,” said Lana Hastings, vice-president student services for the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA).

Besides getting support from the UWSA, some religious student groups seek funding and assistance from larger organizations.

For example, Hillel, the Jewish student group, is backed by the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.

Others, like Slivinski’s Catholic group, seek guidance from similarly minded organizations.

“We will consult people with more knowledge when we need it,” said Slivinski.

In comparison, the Atheist Students’ Association is autonomous and is not affiliated with any larger bodies.

Both groups participated in October’s UWSA Student Group Fair and said it was a good opportunity to expand their groups.

“It’s important to show people we’re out there and have that presence,” said Slivinski. “I know when I started at the university that there wasn’t anything out there for people interested in (the) Catholic faith.”

Thiessen agreed and liked the dynamic atmosphere of setting a table up next to different faith organizations.

“(We) need people to know it’s okay to be an atheist,” he said. “We advocate for people that you can feel comfortable and safe being that person and share commonalities with us. It was cool to be there with other religious groups who have opposing opinions.”
Check out the Interfaith room in ORM01 and visit for a full list of student groups.

Published in Volume 65, Number 9 of The Uniter (October 28, 2010)

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