By Gordon Govier

Staying Faithful at Tufts

Charles Skold decided he would only attend Tufts University if there was a thriving InterVarsity chapter, because he had heard that Tufts could be a difficult place to be a Christian. Visiting the campus, attending a Large Group meeting, and actually talking with some chapter members encouraged him – so much that Tufts became his university.

On his first day as a student at Tufts he saw InterVarsity students making contact with new arrivals through an evangelistic Proxe Station outside of the dining hall. He knew they were committed to the same things he was committed to and connected immediately. “It was good to see them out in public,” he recalled. “They were open about being Christian and inviting new students.”

As Charles got involved with InterVarsity and then became a chapter leader, he saw his faith grow and mature, just as he had hoped. The chapter was thriving. With more than 100 members, it was one of the largest InterVarsity chapters in New England.

After receiving his degree in political science, Charles returned to campus as an InterVarsity intern. He enjoyed working with the students and being mentored by Alex and Andy, his two staff colleagues. And he was looking forward to the chapter growing even larger.

But then in 2012, when Charles became primary staff at Tufts, leading the chapter suddenly became a lot more difficult. The tip-off was anti-InterVarsity graffiti appearing outside their first meeting. A student campaign to get InterVarsity removed from campus was underway and succeeded in convincing the student government to rescind the chapter’s recognition as a registered student group.

As at several other campuses, the InterVarsity chapter was accused of discrimination because the chapter leaders were required to affirm basic Christian doctrine. The chapter appealed the derecognition on religious freedom grounds, and ultimately the University and InterVarsity reached an agreement that there could be a religious qualification for leadership. But the decision was unpopular with their student opponents and the chapter found re-recognition was still beyond its grasp.

“It’s definitely been a challenge,” Charles said of the derecognition. “It forced us to hone in on the belief that Jesus is alive and active at Tufts.” At first the derecognized chapter grew more unified. During early 2013 about 75 students attended the annual winter conference. But then the chapter fractured. Only two Tufts students attended the 2013 fall conference.

As he worked to replant the chapter at Tufts without being able to reserve a room like other groups or hold an orientation event, Charles was forced to be creative. He and the new chapter leaders prayed for contacts with motivated students. “We prayed for students who would be able to step up as leaders from the get go,” he said.

Charles and some students attempted to hand out cookies outside freshman orientation in order to meet new students this fall, drawing the attention of campus police who shut down the cookie campaign. But they were able to gain a few contacts, including Adrian, who was already familiar with InterVarsity. Later, at a Bible study in Adrian’s dorm, they met Travis, who invited them to start a Bible study in his dorm.

“We’ve focused more on relational networks, and God has blessed us by providing us with some important student contacts even when we didn’t have the ability to meet too many,” Charles said.

The Tufts chapter has created an independent programming board whose sole purpose is to reserve rooms on campus for InterVarsity events. This approach seems a promising way to reconcile the tension between the conflicting leadership requirements of InterVarsity and the university. A cooperative event with the student film club this semester drew a large crowd and generated some good publicity for the chapter. A rerecognition for the chapter now seems possible. “That would be the best outcome and the most helpful to religious life at Tufts and religious students, especially evangelical students,” Charles said.

Raised on the mission field, Charles endured a difficult transition at nine years of age when his parents moved the family back to the U.S. and separated. That was when he committed his life to following Christ. “He was someone I knew I could put my trust in, even when things around me were breaking down,” he said.

Over the last two years, as the campus ministry at Tufts has fallen apart around him, Charles has been patient and God has been faithfully restoring the chapter. His New England staff colleagues have encouraged him through the challenges.

Charles won’t give up. “It is my own personal feeling that InterVarsity is an important piece of Tufts’ campus life,” he said. Checking some old campus newspapers at the library he found a mention of InterVarsity activities at Tufts as far back as 1946. He believes InterVarsity will remain a part of Tufts campus life for many years to come.