Non-Christians find faith community
GC is home to over 190 different student organizations, which some of the most popular of these being the 12 Christianity-based clubs. This, however, has led to a large gap in religious representation for non-Christian students.
GC advertises advocating diversity among the student body, but the state of Georgia’s religious demographics do not offer much help, with nearly 80 percent of the state’s population practicing Christianity, according Pew Research statistics.
This high percentage of Christians makes it more difficult for Georgia’s Jewish and Muslim college students to find religious communities on campus.
Hillel, a nationally recognized religious club, has grown to be one of the largest Jewish student organizations since its formation in 1924. But GC’s Hillel chapter was founded just 10 years ago, in 2008.
Co-president of GC Hillel Staci Levine knew about the group through her sister, who co-founded the club back in 2008.
Growing up in a majority Jewish community in metro Atlanta, Levine’s religious upbringing was vastly different from her current environment at GC.
“Probably like 75 percent of the people I was around growing up were Jewish,” Levine said. “[So] coming to Milledgeville, I kind of had a culture shock.”
Now surrounded by a plethora of Christian churches and clubs, Levine and her co-president Rachel Jeneff recognize the lack of options regarding practicing Judaism in Milledgeville.
“There are no temples in Milledgeville, [and] the closest is 45 minutes away,” Jeneff said. “So I feel that some people might not want to come to GC because [of that].”
Keeping the Hillel club afloat has proven to be a challenge in the past, but Levine said she is happy to see an upturn in member participation for the upcoming school year.
“I would say we’re growing,” Levine said. “We have 35 people in our GroupMe, which is the most we’ve has in the 10 years that Hillel has been on campus.”
GC’s Muslims and Non-Muslims in Dialogue club has also seen a similar increased interest.
Serena Odeh, former president of the Dialogue club, left the club because she saw participation decrease.
“When I was part of the club and was heading it, we had trouble finding members,” Odeh said. “There are not many Muslims on our campus.”
Juli Gittinger, lecturer of religious studies and program coordinator for religion, recognizes that the campus is falling behind in religious diversity. Her ideas for improvement seek to intertwine all religions.
“It would be cool to have a ‘meditative space’ somewhere on campus that could be used for prayer, meditation or thoughtful reflection for any religious inclination,” Gittinger said.
Despite having been at GC for only three years, Gittinger said she has seen many strides taken by the school’s administration to recognize religious diversity on campus.
“In the short time I have been at GC, the religious studies courses have gotten more support from the dean of the college of Arts and Sciences and increased enrollment, so those things help,” Gittinger said.