The semester was a blur. John could barely remember the names of the classes he failed and friends he lost. His start at school had been smooth, beginning with a mix of classes, parties, dining halls and dorm rooms—a schedule that quickly dulled into a monotonous routine. Soon, casual socials turned into all-night hangouts, and class periods gave way to movie channels and reruns. Somewhere along the way, his schedule spiraled out of control and wasted time became its only consistency.
Apathy can quickly spread on a college campus. Most students arrive with passion and excitement for the four years they will spend working on their undergrad, yet in the shuffle of classes, parties, jobs and relationships, that passion often fades into indifference. A recent study found that after attending college for one year, the number of students performing community service decreases by about 26.6 percent. That number continues to decline as time goes on. While some students fall into the extremes of constant partying or studying, many simply develop routines of wasted time and directionless living. Let’s face it: Lost marathons and Rock Band tournaments can be fun, but when they take the place of meaningful relationships and community outreach, there is a problem.
“If you don’t see college as having a purpose greater than yourself, it loses all meaning,” says David Horner, a professor of theological studies at Talbot University. Having done research on multiple universities, Horner believes the most common cause of campus apathy is lack of vision. “Many students simply show up and try to make it through without failing out, but college years are the most formative in your life,” he says. He encourages students to cast a spiritual, intellectual and moral vision for their college career, focusing on what they want to accomplish not only for themselves but also for their campus and city.
Along with forming a vision, Horner believes it is essential to find community. “We fall down. We need webs of relationships to help us up—I think that is crucial,” he says. “Even if you have a great vision for yourself, you are not going to make it if you are doing it alone.”
He believes relationships make or break the college experience and often determine students’ lifestyles during and after their time in school. Nearly 52 percent of first-year students feel isolated on their campus, and Horner points out that many students only form relationships with other students, separating themselves from the people living outside their school. “There is something really bracing about being around people of different ages and needs—it gets you out of yourself,” he says.
Alyssa Herter, a senior at Western Michigan University, recalls developing a routine of wasted time and unhealthy community after her freshman year. “I became too comfortable letting my nightlife consist of sitting around friends’ apartments, drinking the night away,” she says. “There was nothing fulfilling about it. Once you sink into that lifestyle, though, it can be really tough to turn away from.”
Eventually, Herter found a community of friends that kept her grounded, and she began living for more than quick fun every night. “Community made all the difference,” she says. “Our lives often reflect the people we surround ourselves with.”
While many students struggle with wasting time, others plunge into classes and work, believing constant busyness equals purposeful living. Horner says many students fill their schedules to feel productive, but the effort can often be meaningless. “You work so hard on something that’s trivial—but really it’s a kind of slothfulness,” he says. “Even though you look like you are working hard, you are not connecting to something that is worthwhile.”
Paul Austin, the Big Sky Area director of Chi Alpha, sees this frequently on college campuses. He understands that many students have obligations that limit their time for community and outreach, but he encourages them to find small ways to reach out to those already around them. “If you have time to do one thing, ask yourself what you can do within that to have a great impact,” he says. He believes students who try to do everything often stretch themselves too thin and tire out. “It’s better to have focus in small things than to be over-involved on a shallow level. Everyone has personal strengths and passions. It’s about using those in small ways to do big things for the Kingdom of God.”
After spending all day studying and working as a graphic designer, Brad Ulrich, a senior at Oklahoma State, admits he has little energy for outreach and service projects. “I get so caught up with academics and vocations that those things tend to become another task on my ever-lengthening to-do list,” he says. Ulrich and his friends started bike-riding around town as a way to take a break, but in the spring semester of 2009, they realized they could combine leisure with outreach. They began riding to local grocery stores, buying one item at each and delivering their purchases to a local food bank. Ulrich used graphic design to make posters for the outreach, and he hopes to promote it even more next year.
“We love riding bikes and we wanted to help our community, so we just combined the two passions,” he says. “It’s about living outwardly in simple ways.”