National Campus Ministry Association Review
The Freshman Survival Guide
by David A. Jones, Past-President
National Campus Ministry Association
c/o Ecumenical Campus Ministry
Kansas State University
Any book that includes praise and recommendations from the likes of Father Martin Moran, Executive Director of the Catholic Campus Ministry Association, Wayne L. Firestone, President of Hillel and Eboo Patel, Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core—as this one does—should get your attention. It got mine.
It is telling that the first words of the introduction are, “There are options….” I took it as a good and encouraging sign that the book did not begin with “Here are the answers.” The editors claim to offer “a holistic look into the lives of college students,” and they succeed rather well. It bears mentioning that this is an edited work, composed of “the accumulated wisdom of students, administrators, professors, counselors and campus ministers”—and an interfaith collection of campus ministers and chaplains at that!
The editors’ choice of subjects confirms their concern for the well-being of students’ minds, bodies and spirits. The book is organized into twenty-five chapters on “real world” topics for college students, ranging from developing friendships, managing roommate situations, handling homesickness, dealing with diversity, addressing questions of vocation, sexual identity and religious faith, maintaining mental and physical health, knowing where and when to seek help, generating a skill set to enhance one’s academic success and identifying strategies for avoiding the dangers of online overexposure, as well as overexposure to alcohol and drugs. Each chapter begins with a “Survival Strategy” and ends with “Takeaways”—highlighting key lessons on each subject. Within each chapter are several illuminating quotes from students and campus ministry professionals, as well as various lists that serve to help students identify both healthy and unhealthy approaches to various concerns. In addition, there are numerous list of coping strategies within each chapter.
In this sense, the book is prescriptive, but not in ways that readers of this kind of literature may have come to expect. Much of the advice meted out is reflective of wisdom that can be gleaned from the sacred writings of the world’s religions. But you will look in vain for scriptural references. They are simply not there, and refreshingly so.
The book strikes me, as the editors claim, to be a book written “for students, by students.” Yet it has been compiled and organized by skilled and caring adult “mentors” who enjoy the advantage of having survived the college years and have been able to put those experiences into perspective for those who are currently in “the heat of the battle.” The result is a 270-page book chock full of sound, helpful, practical advice. For a “nested” individual who has been privileged to be raised in a safe, stable environment with healthy role models and a nurturing, encouraging community, the exhortations and observations in this book may be viewed as mere common sense. But for those “dissected” individuals who were raised without such benefits, a book such as this may equip them with just what they need in order to flourish, and not merely survive, during their college years and beyond. It belongs on the desk of everyone engaged in campus ministry, and better yet, in the hands of today’s college freshmen.