How are Christians received at a California public university?

Credit: Julie Leopo/EdSource

Upon learning that I was accepted to and would be attending Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, one area where I felt some apprehension was finding a religious community that fit me well. My early experience with faith communities negatively colored my expectations for college; after joining a few Christian organizations at my high school, I came away feeling as though these youth groups or clubs were a bit exclusive. 

I also am aware that public perception towards Christians and Christianity may not always be positive on college campuses. For example, a study at Ohio State University, Mississippi State University and North Carolina State University was conducted to “examine if and how college students developed an appreciation of evangelical Christianity over 4 years of college.” The authors noted that “evangelical Christian college students … feel a need to conceal their identity and perspectives on college campuses.”  

Kyle Rachman, a recent Cal Poly graduate, understood this negative perception, telling me, “There was a balancing act with being open about faith … while simultaneously seeking to not push away people who have been harmed by Christians in the past and don’t want to hear anything about Jesus.”

That may be where an incongruence lies. Evangelical Christians are too often lumped into one group that believes the same politically, socially and intellectually about the world. And historically, evangelical Christians have been seen as the oppressors towards minority groups. 

So before heading off to college, I talked with people at my church about what I should get involved with when I got there; my close friend talked to me about how she loved Cru, a Christian club at Cal Poly (as well as at more than 1,300 other college campuses in the U.S.). I wanted to share my faith, but I didn’t want to be a part of a group seen as exclusive or that contributed to negative stereotypes. 

I was nervous before my first meeting. I heard that 300 students came to the club every week, and I imagined never finding a solid group of friends within this sea of people. I imagined this club would be just as exclusive and cliquey as previous clubs I had encountered.

However, I was wrong for the better.

My experience at Cal Poly so far is that I’ve never sensed much judgment, and I have never once felt any alienation for being Christian. None of my fellow students or anyone else on campus has laughed at me or made rude remarks towards me or my faith. 

Jolie Jannone, a third-year transfer student, shared similar sentiments. She said, “Being a Christian at Cal Poly has honestly exceeded my expectations. Thus far, I have not experienced anything but positivity.”

I’ve come to believe that in college, people are more receptive — everyone is trying to find an identity, so whatever identity you have seems to be more easily accepted. I also believe we are an accepting generation that doesn’t seem to be as judgmental about others’ choices.

Talking with some friends from Cru, I learned how other Christians on campus felt about having a faith background on campus. The impression is that this club has given many students an outlet to feel more confident and comfortable in their identity. 

A friend of mine, Ashley Bartlett, said that Cru helped her find “an open space that makes everyone feel welcome and, in doing so, gives the courage to not hide faith around campus.”

Also working in a Christian student’s favor, according to the study mentioned above, is time. The researchers determined that tolerance — and even appreciation for Christians on campus — grew as students spent four years together. Wrote the authors, “Results from this study provide compelling evidence that appreciation of evangelical Christianity can and does occur over four years of college through a mosaic of experiences.”


Abbie Phillips is a second-year journalism student minoring in Spanish at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps. 

The opinions expressed in this commentary represent those of the author. EdSource welcomes commentaries representing diverse points of view. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.

To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.

Similar Articles



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here



Most Popular