Concordia College is a tiny language school in Bemidji, Minn., with an enrollment of 44 students. Shelley Logan is the only LDS student at the Lutheran institution.
But Shelley, who studies German at Concordia, does not lack for LDS fellowship in her higher-education experience.In October, she heard about a convention of the Latter-day Saint Student Association (LDSSA) across the state line in Fargo, N.D., and decided to attend.
At the convention, she linked up with a group of 10 LDS students attending Bemidji State University.
"The last thing I heard her say before I left," said Rex W. Williams, director of the LDSSA, who attended the convention in Fargo, "was that she wasn't alone now. She knows that another LDS student lives just down the street from her, referring to one of the LDSSA members at Bemidji State."
The incident illustrates an important function of the association – ensuring that college and university students maintain close ties with the Church and fellowship with other Latter-day Saints while they are pursuing their studies.
Some Church members may be vaguely aware of the LDSSA, perhaps equating it with the institute of religion program or with Sigma Gamma Chi or Lambda Delta Sigma, the LDS fraternity and sorority on many college and university campuses.
Actually, the LDSSA is an umbrella that covers the institute program, the fraternity and sorority, and more.
"The Latter-day Saint Student Association is a priesthood-directed organization that seeks to meet the needs of individual college students," said Hoyt W. Brewster Jr., director of the Melchizedek Priesthood department. He emphasized that the association is under priesthood direction and is not a Church Educational System program.
"LDSSA correlates all phases of the Church that affect Latter-day Saint college students during the week days. It normally functions on campuses where an LDS institute of religion program exists. However, it may be organized under priesthood direction on any college campus where Latter-day Saints attend."
The tasks of LDSSA are formidable in light of the number of young Latter-day Saints who enter colleges or universities every year. Many, through their own or others' neglect, are prone to distance themselves from the Church, having left the support systems provided by families and home wards and branches.
Consider these statistics cited by Brother Brewster:
- There are some 750,000 unmarried Latter-day Saints between the ages of 18 and 26.
- About 122,000 LDS college students have been identified, excluding those enrolled at Church schools.
- Of the 122,000 students, about 76,000 are enrolled in institute of religion classes.
- With more than 4,000 campuses in the United States and Canada, there are about 280 LDSSA organizations in the two countries. Thousands more campuses are outside the United States and Canada. The LDSSA has made small beginnings in Australia and the British Isles.
Brother Brewster added that the Church schools have reached or are reaching maximum enrollments; in the future more young Latter-day Saints will be attending local colleges and universities.
"The institutes and the LDSSA will need to be an influence in their lives," he observed.
Dramatizing that need is a study published in the spring 1989 issue of BYU Studies, indicating a sharp rise in the dropout rate from Church activity of members during the critical ages of 18 to 26.
But the LDSSA, established in 1967, meets the challenge for many college-age Latter-day Saints.
"It gives another source of Church contact to the students on campus," said Pres. Robert E. Taylor of the Fort Collins Colorado Stake, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University. "Right at the first of the fall semester, it's extremely important to make contact with students who are members of the Church," Pres. Taylor noted. "The more people we can rally to accomplish that, the better our results are with students staying active and involved throughout the year."
Such an effort, Pres. Taylor said, yields positive results in institute of religion enrollment, attendance in residential wards, participation in Church activities, missionary work and service projects.
Brother Williams, a business owner and former mission president, said when he was called as director in March 1989, he was given the charge to bring LDSSA under priesthood direction. Thus, the chairman of the LDSSA executive committee is the stake president whose stake boundaries include the school attended by LDS students.
"I think we're making big progress," Brother Williams said. "For instance, the missionary potential on campus has never really been tapped until now."
At the University of Southern California, an LDSSA booth has been operating on campus since the beginning of school this fall, and more than 50 copies of the Book of Mormon have been distributed. LDS students are encouraged to sign up to serve for a half hour at the booth.
An open house in September at the institute at USC drew 14 investigators.
A booth at Arizona State University last semester, similar to the one at USC, resulted in the placement of about 100 copies of the Book of Mormon. Part of "Mormon Awareness Week," the booth also resulted in distribution of more than 1,000 fliers about the Church, and in several referrals and a couple of convert baptisms, according to Alan Nielsen, institute of religion director.
The organization of Australia's first LDSSA chapter last summer in Melbourne was marked by a lunch-time video presentation attended by 40 people of whom 18 were not Church members. Only three had been personally invited. The rest came in response to advance publicity. Because it was so successful, similar presentations were planned as weekly events.
In addition to missionary work, LDSSA coordinates service projects and LDS involvement in worthwhile campus activities.
At Mesa Community College in Arizona, LDSSA is the largest and most active student group on campus, according to its president, Brad Lester. This year, the association sponsored the homecoming festivities and a clothing drive for an orphanage in Romania and a local child crisis center.
The convention in North Dakota, opened with the "Charity Challenge." Participants knocked on doors in the neighborhood and offered to perform acts of service, according to Janet Kruckenberg, Fargo Stake Public Communications director.
The LDS fraternity and sorority have been organized by the Church on many campuses for those who desire that experience along with their studies and other involvements. However, an LDS student need not be in the fraternity or sorority to be a member of LDSSA, which requires no fees.
And even Church membership is not a requirement, Brother Brewster said. "On some campuses we even have non-member representation in the LDSSA organization. Our desire is to reach out to all."
FACTS ABOUT LDSSA
- It was established in 1967 by the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve, with Elder Paul H. Dunn as its first director. Elder Marion D. Hanks succeeded Elder Dunn, but was not replaced when he left for an assignment in Hong Kong in 1980. For nine years LDSSA functioned without general priesthood direction. Rex W. Williams was called in 1989 to be director, reporting to the Church Priesthood Department.
- Elder James M. Paramore of the Presidency of the Seventy, who is executive director of Priesthood Auxiliaries and a member of the Priesthood Executive Council, oversees the LDSSA. He is assisted by Elder Douglas H. Smith of the Seventy.
- LDSSA general board currently includes the director, the national presidents of Lambda Delta Sigma and Sigma Gamma Chi, zone administrators of the Church Educational System, and the director of the Church Priesthood Department.
- The campus priesthood leader for LDSSA is the stake president whose stake boundaries take in the campus. He is appointed chairman of the LDSSA executive committee by the Church's area presidency.
- Other members of the executive committee are the student president, secretary and vice presidents as needed, who are called and set apart by the priesthood leader. The local institute of religion director is education adviser to the committee.
- The LDSSA president serves as chairman of the LDSSA council, which includes the other LDSSA officers and a representative from each LDS organization that functions on or is affected by the campus.
- The last national LDSSA convention was in Provo, Utah, in May 1989. Leadership training is now being carried out through state and area conventions. The decentraliztion has greatly increased the priesthood and student leader participation.