Here at Truman State University, one of the best ways to feel connected to the campus community is by joining one of the many clubs and organizations representing various hobbies and professional interests. Although there are many ways to get involved, some students more recently have expressed feelings of not being completely seen.
After facing religious discrimination from her freshman year roommate, junior Caitlyn Smith is determined to give a platform to others who feel underrepresented. This semester, Smith founded a new group on campus called Pagan Connect.
The organization aims to create a community space for students and spread awareness about an uncommon type of religion known as Paganism. Paganism is outside the traditional realm of religions and is not related to any Judeo-Christian religion.
Smith herself has been practicing Wicca, one of the most acknowledged Pagan denominations, for the last five years.
“We had to choose a topic for a public speaking course that would talk about how you could improve Truman’s campus,” Smith said. “And so I just wrote about how there was nothing for Pagans, no Paganism.”
Subsequent to giving a speech on improving Truman by including a Paganism option on school forms, one of Smith’s classmates suggested that she take matters into her own hands.
Moving forward, she wants to remove the stigma surrounding Paganism. Her goal is to help make the other Truman religious communities comfortable with Paganism and vice versa by collaborating with other religious organizations on campus to host an informational event about their differences and how the history behind them works together and not against each other.
“Pretty much every religion has a major holiday in late December,” Smith said. “Wiccans have Yule … I would love to work with other religious organizations on campus to do some kind of larger get-together, fundraiser, whatever.”
One of the group’s new members, senior Ham Whiting, was ecstatic to learn about its creation. Whiting discovered Pagan Connect through the sidewalk chalkings done by Smith around Truman’s campus and was looking forward to attending the first meeting. While living in the residence halls, Whiting did not make it publicly known that they practiced Eclectic Paganism to avoid any strong reactions.
“I’ve been involved with witchcraft and Paganism for like two years,” Whiting said. “I thought it was pretty good to see a group forming on campus, so I got pretty excited and decided to come by.”
Regarding Pagan Connect’s future, Whiting said they would love to see the group grow because they think it would help extinguish the stigma and make it more widely accepted.