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Campus Faith Groups Adapt Programming Amid Another Pandemic-Era Semester

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Student leaders of campus faith groups said they have faced difficulty adapting to the whims of a pandemic over the past two years, but expressed hope for the prospects of a return to normalcy.

With undergraduates back on campus amid continued public health regulations, student leaders said the pandemic has made socializing, a traditional component of their programming, a challenge.

Juhee Goyal ’22 — social chair of Harvard Dharma, the College’s Hindu group — said the pandemic prevented her organization from holding a retreat at the start of the semester. The group postponed the retreat until April, according to Goyal.

“The sense of belonging that we usually start the semester with is something that we're going to have to build up gradually instead of being able to head on into that,” Goyal said.

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Still, faith groups have found ways to adapt.

Malika Umar ’23, co-president of the Harvard Islamic Society, said Covid-19 has forced her organization to find new and safe ways to gather and foster friendship.

“We've done this thing called ‘Fajr and Flapjacks,’ which is basically just our morning prayer, where we gather in the Musalla, which is the Muslim prayer space on campus,” she said. “We worship together and then we take some to-go and then we eat in our own respective places.”

“This past Friday was the first time that we were able to do [congregational prayers] this whole semester,” Umar added. “We've been adjusting.”

Chinaza Asiegbu ’22, co-president of Harvard College Faith and Action, said that her organization has largely been able to maintain normal programming, such as weekly Bible studies.

“We've been really blessed to actually see even more people wanting to learn more about God and learn more about what it means to be in a Christian community, and seeing that growth has been exciting,” Asiegbu said.

Despite facing challenges over the past two years, faith group leaders were optimistic about the future of their programming as restrictions relax and cases decline.

Umar said the Harvard Islamic Society hopes to engage members through study breaks and movie nights in the future if public health guidance allows. Dharma plans to host study breaks and game nights to further engage its members, according to Goyal.

Zehan Zhou ’22, co-president of Buddhist student association Harvard Maarga, said the group plans to organize outdoor field trips to help members destress and practice the Buddhist faith.

“There's a lot of work, there's a lot of classes. We just want to take that stress element off people,” he said. “We just want a lot of people to learn some new things about themselves, learn some new things about other people at Harvard, get an opportunity to meet some new friends.”

—Rohan Rajeev can be reached at rohan.rajeev@thecrimson.com.

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