The newest club on campus, the pagan club, is seeking to provide students in a religious minority a safe place. In a predominantly Christian community, several students have banded together to practice their beliefs and be an open source of answers for students with questions about paganism.
Sergey Khrushchev moved to the U.S. from Ukraine three years ago. He began studying at UVU this summer and noticed there was no place on campus for pagan students to meet or share their views.
“Not everyone has the opportunity to speak up,” Khrushchev said. “I wanted to help educate people about different beliefs and give pagan students a place.”
Khrushchev created the pagan club for several reasons: to give pagan students a safe environment and social circle, to discuss topics with like-minded students and teach others what being pagan means. Monte Hansen, the club’s vice president, explained that for many students the word “pagan” is associated with evil and alien practices.
“Most people here don’t know anything about paganism, and they think it’s satanic or bad,” Hansen said. That’s simply not true.”
Paganism includes all earth-based religions like Norse deities, Slavic gods, pantheism, druidism, and Wicca. Hansen said every pagan finds their own path, feeling called to what moves them. Hansen is Asatru, believing in the Norse gods like Odin and Thor. He talks reverently about his beliefs, saying he found his path but respects others who believe differently. He says everyone finds their way, and that’s their business.
“People might fear the cultural backlash because paganism isn’t understood,” Hansen said. “But when you explain what you really believe, I’ve found most people are respectful and don’t really care.”
Khrushchev echoes Hansen, saying the local culture is very receptive and open to other traditions. Having been raised in Ukraine, he believes in Slavic gods. In Ukraine, people are very closed-off about religion because of the country’s history. Khrushchev says talking with others and answering questions here is easy.
While the club has only had two meetings, response has been positive. A dozen students attended the initial orientation meeting.
This is not the first time UVU has had a pagan club. Several years ago, a club was organized but ceased to exist in 2010. Hansen said the members and club leaders where afraid of “coming out” as pagans and never really gained traction on campus.
“They wanted to come to events with other clubs later and leave early so they didn’t have to face questioning,” Hansen said. “We’re much more open about who we are and our goals. There is no connection to the old club.”
Khrushchev has connections with a long-running Salt Lake City pagan association and has used that experience to encourage other students to come together.
“We’re open to everyone,” Khrushchev said. “Whether you’re pagan and want to talk to other pagans or Christian and are curious. We just want to make friends.”
The club meets every Friday at 6 p.m. in LI 512, the fifth floor of the library. Khrushchev says all are welcome to attend the meetings, pagan or not. The club is also working at creating a Facebook page for the club with information and meeting times.
Joshua Wartena is a senior studying Journalism and Spanish at UVU and will graduate in Fall 2014. He is hoping to work as a middle-east correspondent or long-form magazine writer in South America. Josh is currently living in Orem and is the Opinions Section Editor