Starting school at Cal Poly marked the beginning of a conversion for journalism sophomore Leah Castillo. As Castillo entered freshman year, she came under the wing of her senior sister who told her about something that changed her life – Cru.
“Whenever I’d walk into Mountainbrook Church [where Cru is held], my hands would get sweaty. It wasn’t nervousness. I was feeling something. I didn’t know how to explain it,” Castillo said.
Castillo now interprets that feeling as an “aspect of joy.”
Castillo joined Cru Central Coast, a section of the evangelical Christian organization known as Cru. While merely a local section, Cru Central Coast is one of the largest of its kind in the nation with about 1,000 involved Cal Poly students, according to Jamey Pappas who has been the director of Cru Central Coast since 1998.
Cru: Recognized, disaffiliated then recognized again
The international organization is renowned for its connection to college life. However, in 2014, the Cru groups in California were disaffiliated from California State University (CSU) campuses because the CSU system adopted a nondiscrimination policy, Pappas said.
According to Pappas, this new policy ordered that religion could no longer be a qualification for group membership or leadership for any official student groups. The new system required an agreement signature from Cru which would determine the future of its collegiate club status.
“We wanted to be honest [about] how we go about Christianity,” Pappas said, regarding the importance of the agreement’s leadership aspect. “We didn’t sign it.”
Though they continued as a non-club entity, there were changes for Cru Central Coast. Access to the university was no longer the same. Room reservations at Cal Poly required payment.
“The biggest impact was financial and our visibility, in terms of not being listed as a club and not being at club events,” Pappas said.
This meant no more presence at Week of Welcome, open house or club showcases. Cru suddenly became an organization outside of student life.
In 2015, a compromise was made based on the original agreement with adjustments in the concerned leadership criteria.
“We have to make our leadership positions open to anyone,” Pappas said. “Anyone can apply.”
Along with this openness, Cru is able to ask leadership candidates questions concerning its mission as a ministry, according to Pappas.
“We want this to be a student-led ministry,” emphasized Pappas. “We’re development focused and mentorship focused.”
This compromise agreement resurrected Cru’s club status in California. The group is now under the club category of independent student organization at Cal Poly, according to Pappas. This is the same type of status held by fraternities and sororities.
While its hiatus from Cal Poly may seem damaging, Cru’s history as an organization has seen other such times and changes. The group was founded in 1951 at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) as a student ministry under the original name Campus Crusade for Christ, but changed its name to Cru in 2011 due to connotations with the word “crusade” and expansions beyond just college campuses.
Today Cru is active in 190 countries, as cited by the group’s website.
Christianity at Cal Poly
Beyond the resurrection and influence of Cru, a Christian connection to student life is felt at Cal Poly.
“I think we’re probably the most religious campus in California,” religious studies professor and advisor for the religious studies minor at Cal Poly Stephen Lloyd-Moffett said.
Lloyd-Moffett holds a Ph.D in religious studies and has taught at Cal Poly for more than a decade. He bases his hypothesis on the observation that many private Christian universities require students to attend church, but many Cal Poly students go to church on their own.
Pappas agreed with Lloyd Moffett’s observation.
“I think Cal Poly has a reputation for having a strong Christian community. It attracts students to choose Cal Poly,” Pappas said.
Lloyd-Moffett thinks this Christian attraction and support can be further explained by geography.
“I think geographically, since we draw a lot from the Central Valley, it plays a big role,” Lloyd-Moffett said.
In a recent online survey by Mustang News, 42 out of 100 students said they were religious before coming to Cal Poly, while 58 said they were not.
In a follow-up question, students were asked if their religion changed after coming to Cal Poly. Out of the same 100, eight percent said yes.
Leah Castillo is among this eight percent.
Castillo calls Newport Beach, California home and wasn’t a practicing Christian before her freshman year. Now, she believes her predominantly Christian hometown environment prepped her for Cal Poly’s own religious climate.
In the same survey, students were asked if they believe Cal Poly has a religious majority. Out of 100 responses, 58 said yes. Respondents were also asked which religion they think is most popular on campus, Christianity tallied 95 out of 100 in a list of several religions.
“I feel like there’s a huge majority of Christians on campus,” Castillo said. “Coming here, it wasn’t a huge shock for me.”
Castillo thinks the presence of groups like Cru help create a personal conversation for students.
“It encourages other groups to thrive,” Castillo said. “It at least opens up a question of what to believe.”
Correction: A previous version of the chart, “Student faith before coming to Cal Poly,” said that 58 percent of students were religious before coming to Cal Poly and 42 percent were not. The chart has been changed to display the correct data.