“To seek the peace and prosperity of the university.”

In 2011, in the wake of a suicide on campus, Columbia University turned to an unlikely source for help: a late-night dorm room discussion group co-hosted by Veritas and InterVarsity.

This weekly discussion group—called Veritas Hours—had been gathering all semester to discuss the big questions about meaning, purpose, and God. The weekend following the death of one student, they turned their attention to grief. They read a Psalm, someone read a Nicholas Wolterstorff passage, and in that small community, they began to make sense of their pain.  

With an increasing need to address mental health, Columbia’s administration wanted to introduce a campus-wide wellness initiative and, through a student connected to Veritas Hours, they discovered that Veritas and InterVarsity had already created a space for students to wrestle honestly with the challenges and suffering they were facing at Columbia.

As a result, InterVarsity won the King’s Crown Leadership Excellence award at Columbia—an award given by a student committee. Today Columbia’s student’s wellness curriculum is, in many ways, shaped by the students and discussions of Veritas Hours.

Programs like Veritas Hours—and our partnership with InterVarsity at Columbia—inspired the Veritas Fellows program, a new initiative that invites campus ministers to seek the peace and prosperity of the university. An immersive nine-month program, the Veritas Fellowship will train campus ministers to better serve their university through listening to the needs of their campus and designing events and programs that address those needs.

Last month in Chicago, we hosted our first Veritas Fellows Retreat, joined by campus ministers from across the country and across organizations. This year’s pilot cohort includes staff from Cru, InterVarsity, Chi Alpha, Reformed University Fellowship, the North Carolina Study Center, the Upper House study center, the Chesterton House, the Bradley Study Center, and university chaplains.

The pilot cohort of the Veritas Fellows Program

Over the course of three days, this year’s pilot cohort of 27 Fellows heard from experts like Andy Crouch (Praxis), Bethany Jenkins (VP of Forums and Content at Veritas), and Andrew Schuman (VP of Veritas Labs) on the current landscape of the university, as well as several interviews from campus ministers reflecting on the impact of their campus work. Casting a vision of the university as a space for Christians to serve the broader culture, the retreat focussed on expanding the idea of what it means to be a campus pastor.

Ashley Byrd (InterVarsity & Veritas) and Kara Reens (Veritas) discuss leveraging academic credibility.

“As campus ministers, we know how to take care of our student group on campus,” said Colby Putnam, Veritas Fellow and Assistant Area Director with InterVarsity at Quinnipiac University and Fairfield University. “But something that has become much clearer to me is the need to reach, partner with, and to serve administration, faculty and staff, as well as students… to create a longer-lasting change and a legacy for Christ on the campus.”

Veritas Fellows discuss in a breakout session

“I’m leaving here feeling really empowered,” said Lydia Davis, Veritas Fellow, Associate Director of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations, and Director of Young Adult Ministries at Kenwood Baptist. Our hope and our prayer over the next year is centered around empowering these incredible campus leaders to serve their universities well and in the process, create a better university for all of us.