The Catholic Commentator  

For young people, finding a group or community of peers to accept them and celebrate with them a new chapter in their life is important.  

This is particularly true on college campuses, where a myriad of social and cultural opportunities can be exciting for teenagers transitioning into adulthood. Many search for a community to belong to, and their choices can enhance the experience, or in some cases, present risks that can have lifelong consequences. In extreme cases, such as in the case of Maxwell Gruver, a freshman student at LSU who recently died in a fraternity hazing incident in which 10 people were arrested, the consequences are deadly. At other times, it can lead to psychological scars caused by the person’s dignity being stripped away.  

Olivia Gulino, associate director for youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, and Joe Bass, youth ministry project coordinator, emphasized the importance for youth to find a community, fraternity or sorority that respects and supports their values and saying “no” when they don’t.  

“I think that fitting in and belonging is something that anyone craves, but especially young people in a new environment such as college,” said Gulino.  

Bass said, “There’s a culture that values the college experience. Unfortunately, sometimes the college experience includes things that don’t value the growth of the human person.”  

Reflecting on his own personal experiences at LSU, Bass said with the college experience comes some behaviors that involve elements of risk, and that is considered a cultural norm.  

College presents many options, which may meet the student’s perceived sense of freedom that “you have all these choices, you can pick what you want to do, pick who you want to be and pick whom you want to be with,” according to Gulino. The main consideration is how are the students being helped by the decisions they make?  

Bass remembers his first year of college and the tensions between communities with opposing views of what college life is supposed to look like. He said he had friends who had grown up with faith-based values and other friends, who were good people, gathered around activity and “the next exciting thing.”  

“Sometimes the next exciting thing has risks in it,” said Bass.  

When it came to deciding which fraternity to join, Bass said he understood that if he was going to live out his faith, he was not going to join an organization that did not support him because he was “somebody new.”  

“You find there are communities that have a very specific understanding of the human person and are life-giving communities,” said Bass.  

He and Gulino said many colleges have Catholic churches, chapels, student centers and ministries that enhance that period of life.  

Gulino urged people to do an examination of environment and decide whether a community, fraternity or sorority is life giving or not.  

“If they are life-giving, then I can ask myself, ‘What can I do to continue to give life to this community?’ ” said Gulino.  

She said meeting new people and having new experiences is an exciting time. But when those “under layers” start revealing themselves and a person worries about losing friends, mistakes can be made.  

“You have to be aware that things can change rapidly and be able to make decisions,” said Gulino.  

Haste is the enemy of making sound decisions, especially when there’s potential risk involved, she said.  

Much like shopping for any item that can come with a high price, young people should look at their options, Gulino said. If an organization is not life giving, they have to determine their values are opposite of what they believe.  

“There’s no harm in saying ‘This is not for me’ and walk away and be okay with it,” said Gulino.  

People can avoid getting into harmful situations by knowing what an organization or fraternity stands for before getting into them, said Gulino and Bass.  

Being able to make good decisions and standing firm in one’s convictions comes from being grounded, according to Bass.  

“It’s easier to branch out when you are first rooted somewhere. To branch out, flowers have to first be rooted in a very definite place. Branching out means you have the integration and you have the integrity to be able to do that without having (to) change who you are depending on the places where you go,” said Bass.  

“We see that throughout Scripture,” said Bass. “Christ was constantly with people who were outside of the social means that he was brought up with. However, he was so rooted in his identity as one who is loved by the father that he was able to bring out that sense of new life into those ‘other branches.’ ”  

He said when he was in college he had friends who were Christians, some who weren’t and some who did not believe in a higher power and he benefitted from those relationships.  

“However, I knew the faith that I was rooted in, and that way I didn’t enter those friendships with the understanding that I was going to have to compromise something about myself in order to be in this friendship, nor did the other person expect that,” Bass said. “But if I am going to branch out, first I had to be rooted. Otherwise, I’m just a chameleon adapting to each place I’m going.”  

College and other transitions into adulthood can be looked fondly back on as a time of growth, said Gulino and Bass.  

“The expansion of the mind of truth, the expansion of the heart in charity, both of these things are something which grow in the sense of community. I know for a fact that my college community experience ultimately led me to meeting Jesus Christ as a living person. College led me deeper into this community and experience the fruits of it. Those friendships are still there to this day. Ultimately my decision to discern a vocation to the priesthood and job opportunities stemmed from that community that were rooted in Christ the King at LSU,” said Bass.  

“Learning to take ownership of my life and realizing that my faith was mine was a gift that was given to be cherished and treasured. My identity as Olivia falls in that same category as something to be cherished and treasured. College was definitely a time when Christ was intentional about his pursuit of me, he wanted me to know who he was,” said Gulino.