Christopher Stefanick, the Archdiocese of Denver's director of Youth, Young Adult, and Campus Ministry, has recorded a new video for Catholic News Agency, discussing the dangers that incoming college students will face as the school year begins.
A number of unprecedented challenges, Stefanick said, come with the new independence of undergraduate life. The experience of separation from family, friends, and previous parish communities, he said, was comparable to an animal being “separated from the herd” for the first time.
But while this independence is exciting and offers new opportunities, it also involves real dangers. Stefanick highlighted four key areas of life where college students must be especially careful in order to avoid compromising their futures and spiritual lives.
Credit cards, presented in an appealing manner and with attractive offers, “lead to so much financial pain and disaster in the lives of young people,” according to Stefanick. The youth minister explained how many college students overestimate their own finances and misunderstand what is being offered.
As a result, 19 percent of bankruptcies filed last year were by college students.
Stefanick also strongly warned against sexual promiscuity on campus. Between freshman year and graduation, one in four college students will become infected with one of the various sexually transmitted diseases, which cannot be reliably prevented by any means other than abstinence.
Besides the risk of infection or pregnancy, Stefanick warned against the lifelong psychological wounds left by sex outside of marriage, and the shipwreck of one's spiritual life. Explaining “how far is too far” in dating relationships, the youth minister offered a simple rule: “The moment you close the door, you just went too far. Keep the door open, you'll stay out of trouble.”
Drugs and alcohol, he recounted, also take a heavy toll on many students looking to relax or bond with friends. Stefanick advised that in addition to staying sober, new students should look for a reliable group of drug-free and responsible friends.
One of the most common difficulties in college is the onset of stress and depression. Suicide is a real danger in the college population, Stefanick noted, with freshman year providing some of the most stressful times of one's life. “Don't let shame isolate you” from seeking help from parents, trustworthy priests, campus ministers, or professional counselors, he advised.
Stefanick concluded his message by stressing the importance of developing meaningful friendships based on sharing and living the Catholic faith. Although it can be difficult to “find a new herd,” he said, it is the best way to avoid the dangers to one's present, future, and soul: “Everything can hinge on those friends you make in the first few days of being on campus.”
He encouraged students to connect with any available Catholic ministries, such as FOCUS missionaries or the college's Newman Center, or to contact the diocese if groups cannot be located, before arriving on campus.
With the aid of these resources, Stefanick assured viewers, students could thrive, rather than being “devoured” by the dangers of their new independence.