Students allege prejudice

Todd Vanderwerff

Todd Vanderwerff

Several former members and one current member of the SDSU Christian group InterVarsity say that the group discriminates against mainline Christian denominations, especially Catholicism.

InterVarsity, a group founded in England in 1887, claims to be an inter-denominational group, devoted to bringing together Christians to discuss and share their faith.

If the allegations are proved to be true, InterVarsity would lose its standing as a campus-supported group. This would result in the group losing the ability to meet on campus or officially advertise on campus. They would also be ineligible for any university funds, should they require them.

In seven separate interviews, seven former InterVarsity members and one current member all made the same allegations against the group. Three of these members have elected to speak about their allegations in the Collegian.

All eight say the group ostracized its Catholic members, after encouraging them to join. In addition, they say that one of the group’s two leaders, Zach Conrad, was aware of the problem and did nothing to stop it.

Conrad, who is also an InterVarsity staff member at Dakota State University in Madison, claims he knew nothing of the allegations. The other staff member, Jeremy Hamilton, also says he had no knowledge of the alleged incidents.

Both men have worked for SDSU InterVarsity for four years.

Kevin Jaeger, a senior computer science major and Catholic, says he joined InterVarsity during his freshman year. He claims he was made to feel welcome until he refused to change from the Catholic church to the Wesleyan church.

“For being a Christian organization, I have never seen people being so un-Christian. They don’t forgive. They don’t reach out to people and they are certainly not understanding,” Jaeger said.

He claims he went to Conrad with his complaints and that Conrad did not listen to him.

The Allegations

Specifically, Jaeger and his friends Beth Fox and Kara Martinson, as well as several other people who wished to remain anonymous, allege that members of InterVarsity spoke out against, mocked and openly shunned members of the Catholic church.

Jaeger says he was encouraged to leave the Catholic church and join the Wesleyan church.

Jaeger claims a member stated in an InterVarsity meeting itself, “I believe the Catholic church is nothing but a cult.” Though the leaders themselves were there, they did nothing.

Jaeger claims that it was after this that he spoke with Conrad.

“From the beginning, I said I didn’t feel welcome by (Conrad) or any of the other members,” Jaeger said.

Jaeger does admit that after this meeting, Conrad invited the campus Catholic priest to speak with the group.

In February of 2001, Jaeger and Fox began dating. At that point, things began to become troublesome for Fox as well.

“They didn’t like it one bit,” Jaeger said.

Fox says she was asked by Conrad what she would do if she and Jaeger married, since he was a Catholic.

“It didn’t really bug me, but it just bugged everyone else that he was Catholic,” Fox said.

Fox claims Conrad asked her to be the worship team leader in her junior year. She was later shocked to find that the position had been given to someone else.

According to Jaeger, this may be an offshoot of the group’s leader selection process. The current servant team (student leaders) meet and pray over who should be on the next year’s team. The rest of the group is asked for input, but the people selected are invariably approved.

Jaeger says the lack of formal democratic process allows one denomination to retain power over the group. In the two years Jaeger was in the group, all of the servant team members were Wesleyans.

For her part, Martinson made the decision to leave around the same time.

“I actually shared something private with a smaller group of InterVarsity members and as soon as I got done one of the guys made a very sarcastic remark that offended me,” Martinson said.

She also claims that around the same time she left, she noticed numerous other Catholics leaving the organization.

“I’ve noticed a trend that Catholics will be in Intervarsity and then they’ll leave after a couple of years,” Martinson said.

The Response

When contacted, Conrad and Hamilton expressed surprise.

Conrad said the group continues to attempt to fulfill its central mission and that this year, it is focusing on love, evangelism and discipleship.

“I do believe some people do feel excluded. … I think that happens with any group if you don’t have tight relationships in the first place,” Conrad said.

Hamilton said he was aware that one student was making allegations, but was not aware of others.

“I know speaking as a staff person, we’re very careful to make sure we’re not taking positions against any specific denominations,” Hamilton said.

The Reverend Bob Chell of the University Lutheran Center said he believes InterVarsity may suffer from a lack of officially trained clergy, something the ULC, Campus Catholic Parish and United Methodist Student Center all have.

“People sometimes come right out of college and they don’t have any theological training,” Chell said.

Father Scott Traynor of the CCP said bias against Catholics is nothing new.

“(Some groups) define themselves against something else. Ultimately, every other Christian denomination defines itself against the Catholic church,” Traynor said.

For Martinson, the experience was painful. She hopes by telling her story, people will have a warning.

“If they decide to go with Intervarsity and people start treating them this way, then theyshould try to do something about it because I didn’t do anything about it and I should have,” Martinson said.

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#1.887997:1651590017.jpg:interv.jpg:Kevin Jaeger and Beth Fox say InterVarsity did not accept their religious beliefs. After joining, the couple left the group. :Mike Gussiaas