Religious groups have always had a presence on UT’s campus, standing in places with heavy student traffic handing out flyers or proclaiming their beliefs. Some students choose to interact with them; others choose to ignore them.
According to the Spirituality in Higher Education study done by researchers at the University of California in Los Angeles, 80 percent of college students have an interest in spirituality, 69 percent pray and 79 percent believe in God. As a group, college students have a high interest in religion, and many make important decisions about their spiritual beliefs during their college years. This makes campuses a popular spot for religious groups to influence students.
“They know that college kids are their target audience and their main priority,” Erin Staub, sophomore in hotel management and tourism, said. “We’re young and more impressionable.”
Students on UT’s campus have mixed feelings about certain religious groups, especially those who are very vocal and sometimes confrontational about expressing their views.
“I don’t appreciate them yelling, but it’s quite entertaining especially when groups yell at each other,” Staub said. “I just laugh and walk by.”
Others are more critical of the way these groups present themselves.
“I’m not comfortable with the people who come and scream. I don’t think Christian organizations should be about that,” Zach Spivey, a junior in architecture who is active at the Christian Student Center, said. “They tend to isolate themselves.”
Some of these individuals have strong opinions and have gotten into heated debates and arguments with students.
“I think those people should be confronted. That way they get the hint that a lot of us don’t want them here,” Zach Strickland, sophomore in history, said. “They should respect everyone’s views.”
The Center for Bio-Ethical Reform is one of the most organized and prevalent groups that comes to UT. This pro-life organization sets up large displays at the Pedestrian Mall with graphic pictures representing abortion every semester. They currently have a bus covered with similar pictures driving around campus one day a week for their reproductive choice campaign.
“We’re educating people about abortion. We want to change how people think and feel about it and reveal information that they might not have otherwise,” Dr. Fletcher Armstrong, Southeastern director for the center, said. “Our message is about social justice.”
Many students like Strickland feel that the displays are too gruesome.
“They should not have to show pictures of dead babies to make their point,” he said.
Other students may not disagree with the message but still avoid the displays altogether.
“I think it’s really gross, but it doesn’t offend me because I don’t look,” Staub said.
CBR feels like the pictures are appropriate for the message they are trying to send out.
“We agree that the pictures are disturbing, abortion is an act of violence and it is horrifying and disturbing,” Armstrong said.
No matter how students feel about them, these religious groups have a First Amendment right to be on campus expressing their beliefs.
“They have a right to be here. UT is all about all these mixed voices trying to be heard,” Spivey said. “Everyone has the right to tell their story, and that’s what matters.”