9-1-17 Free Speech Alley

Missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recruit students at Free Speech Alley on Sept. 1, 2017.

Yesterday, in a momentary lapse of judgment, I decided to study in the Memorial Oak Grove behind the Student Union.

Only a few minutes passed before two students approached me about joining their youth ministry, reminding me why I had deemed the otherwise pleasant location off-limits to begin with.

As an avid enthusiast of studying outdoors, I have been fruitlessly drafted into more youth groups and Bible studies than anyone else on campus. Maybe I invite it by simply existing outside; maybe I have a welcoming face. All I know is that every time — and I mean every time — I sit in that spot behind the Union, someone new wants to talk to me about my sins.

Listen: I appreciate these students’ zeal. I recognize they have every constitutional right to invite me into their ministry. There is nothing ethically or morally wrong with what they are doing — I just find it annoying, intrusive and nerve-wracking.

I believe in following the informal social contract that governs strangers in public places. I choose to respect the personal space of others, engaging only if the interaction will somehow benefit the other person.

I can tell someone I think their pants are cool — everyone likes knowing they have cool pants — and I can warn them if they’re in immediate danger. Beyond these parameters, I keep to myself.

I wish the campus ministry recruiters would extend the same respect to me and my personal spiritual beliefs.

I know my discomfort stems from my inability to tell people no. A more assertive person may succeed in brushing off these proselytizers with a quick and firm “please leave me alone.” I doubt it, though.

Like those pushy men who harass women in coffee shops in a misguided attempt at flirting, the college ministry promoters forge mightily forward despite no sign of reciprocation. Try as you might to tell them you’re not interested, that you’re already involved in other groups, that you appreciate the offer, but no thank you — nothing will deter them.

Despite their obnoxious methods — or, more accurately, because of them — the ministry recruitment strategy is effective. The Refuge, Chi Alpha, Baptist Collegiate Ministry and the Bridge are all immensely popular campus ministry groups, each attracting hundreds to their weekly services and group activities.

Campus ministries do a lot of good in our community. It’s nice to know some students are able to have such genuinely positive interactions and experiences with these organizations. However, I’d really rather just be left alone.

If there’s one positive aspect to living on campus during COVID-19, it’s that I now find myself approached less often by people looking to convert me. Ironically, I breathe a little easier in public outdoor spaces now that the perpetual threat of ministry recruitment is slightly less imminent.

So, if any recruiters are reading right now — my face is next to this column. Please don’t approach it in public.

Cécile Girard is a 20-year-old psychology junior from Lake Charles.

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