Changing our reputation and opening doors

changing reputation

When our InterVarsity group was pressured to limit our activities and change our name, we felt like we weren’t welcome on our own campus, and we didn’t know why. It forced our chapter’s leadership team to take a hard look at our group and come up with ways to improve our reputation. Now we’re the largest club on campus and we’ve found favor with the administration. But first, we had to change… .

I’m a senior at Russell Sage College, a small liberal arts school of 800 women in Troy, New York. Since my freshman year, I’ve seen the Lord transform our InterVarsity chapter and make a difference on our campus. This is how it happened.

Four years ago, our group was known as Russell Sage Christian Fellowship. Because we weren’t the only Christian group on campus, the administration approached us and asked us to change our name, threatening to pull our funding and take away our charter. We simply changed our name to InterVarsity. This pressure from the administration was the start of God really working on our campus, but first there were more hard times ahead.

The following year, during Easter week, we were passing out small purple ribbons and candy at a table in the middle of campus with Newman, the Catholic fellowship. A teacher came by and said we were “disrupting” students between classes. She even called campus security and asked that we be removed. We had the correct forms and approval to be there so the officials would not ask us to leave, but it definitely shook us up. We felt we were being unfairly stereotyped as “those meddling Christians,” the angry, in-your-face types with a bullhorn and pamphlets.

Group make-over

After this, our leaders met to talk and pray about ways to improve our reputation on campus. For starters, we left our meeting rooms spotless, helped other clubs with events and prayed for acceptance and open hearts on our campus. Slowly we began to change the focus of our large-group meetings by presenting topics for discussion that appealed to our friends and the rest of campus. We became intentional about providing a hospitable atmosphere for new people and building relationships through our after-event activities.

The next year, InterVarsity had a new name, a new focus, and a new leadership team that had inherited the vision for how to play by the rules and show God’s love to the greater community at Sage. We learned how to take advantage of all the resources our school offered for equipment, rooms and funding. We discovered how to make our large groups better, our small groups more comfortable and our outreach more interesting by asking for the right times, locations and equipment from the school. God opened doors that were shut for us, especially through our Spa Night.

Spa Night

Body image and eating disorders are huge problems at our very high-strung and personally competitive all-female school, so we sponsored a Spa Night for the women on campus. We planned a movie and discussion about beauty, body image and spirituality. We provided healthful snacks and opportunities for people to do crafts, cosmetics, hair coloring, guided meditation, massage and jewelry-making. All this was possible because we enlisted others on campus who partnered with us in creative ways. We even got some funding from the school.

About 150 women came to Spa Night and they appreciated our efforts to host a special event for them. It took us about six months to plan it, but God directed our steps, even blessing us through a blizzard, but that’s another story.

Multi-Cultural Night

After the success of Spa Night and seeing how God worked through it, we wondered what else we could do that people would identify with. The next semester we hosted Multi-Cultural Night, emphasizing how individuals can change world poverty. We invited groups like the Red Cross, World Vision, Invisible Children and other organizations to give us information or send a representative for our display tables. We also included the campus Diversity Center and the Study Abroad coordinators. Some local stores and vendors who sell fair trade bags, trinkets and other cool stuff were invited to come as well.

The dean of students responded to our request for funding by giving us $100 for food. The Diversity Center pitched in another $400 for food from our campus catering service, a special treat. We got overwhelming support for this event from everyone on campus and had a large turnout.

Earning Respect

After this, we started getting emails from campus departments, asking how we planned things, who we talked to and how we organized our event. They were using our Spa Night as a model for an upcoming Admissions event. We also got contacted to show up at activities fairs and Admissions events that we had never heard about before and we were showcased as a model organization to prospective students and their parents.

Our leadership team has a mix of majors and personalities so, combined, we know everyone on our small campus — all the faculty and students — and they know us. We have been intentional about restoring our reputation, always trying to demonstrate God’s love in the classroom and when interacting with people about events or reserving rooms. In all of our activities and academics, we want to reflect the transforming life of Jesus in us.

Last semester, the same teacher who tried to get our Easter table shut down was literally dragging new students to our table and telling them to get involved in our club if they came from a church background. I guess we really have changed, but our mission sprawls before us and we’re eager to see how God will be working in the future as we follow him.

—Heather Allen

Read more about how students changed the format of their large-group meetings and welcomed others into their mission on campus.