Andrew's Apologia

Ivy League student sparks spiritual discussions through journal.

  • by Jennifer Abegg

"If you believe in 'survival of the fittest,' why volunteer at a food pantry?" Andrew Schuman remembers asking during a lunch conversation in high school. Such discussions with his peers about social Darwinism, existentialism, and the belief that the mind is merely a series of chemical reactions, were common for him, one of the few Christians in his class.

Every now and then, a conversation would be so intriguing that Andrew and his friends would skip their classes at the elite Phillips Exeter prep school just to continue it. Even his parents, staff members with Cru at the University of New Hampshire, would ask if he was spending too much time discussing worldviews instead of doing homework.

Through the early discourses, Andrew challenged the misconception that many of his intellectual peers believed: that academics and faith were mutually exclusive—you can't be intelligent and a Christian. Five years ago a Harris poll found that the level of belief is generally highest among people without a college education, and lowest among those with postgraduate degrees.

The summer before Andrew's freshman year at Dartmouth College, his dad took him to a conference at Yale University. There, Andrew heard students explain a publication they created at Harvard University to help their peers think about Christ. Andrew wanted to bring the concept to Dartmouth and to find Christians there to help his scholarly peers see the perspective that Christianity isn't some unreasoned leap of faith; it is logical. However, Andrew, an engineering major, didn't plan on doing much of the project himself; he just wanted to suggest the idea and recruit other Christian students with journalistic, English and artistic bents to write, edit and design the journal.

On the evening of the first day of school at the smallest of the Ivy League colleges, all the Christian groups got together to present themselves to the Dartmouth freshmen. Andrew, along with Charlie Dunn, a friend he had just met during freshman orientation, stood up in front of at least 200 people there and announced the idea.

"I've never seen that before," says Cru staff member Chris West, leader of Christian Impact, the name of Cru at Dartmouth, which Andrew later joined. "A brand-new student on campus taking such initiative and right out of the blocks."

At that initial gathering of Christian groups, Andrew explained the purpose of the journal: to raise spiritual questions and link arms with seekers of the truth. About 20 students, half from Christian Impact, said that they were interested in serving as writers, designers and editors. However, one slot the engineering major didn't fill was executive editor. So he asked God to provide someone.

The volunteers met and delegated writing, designing and other responsibilities. They found 10 Christian professors to edit and help make what they named The Dartmouth Apologia a reputable publication. "It is a long-overdue effort on college campuses," says Gregg Fairbrothers, one of the professors who agreed to assist.

Producing publications is part of the Ivy League culture. Dartmouth boasts of at least 14 other student periodicals, including political, humorous and various art journals. The Apologia  is the first of a religious flavor.

The students also found individuals and foundations to help fund it. But they still didn't have an editor. "I hoped the Lord would raise up some smart upperclassman," says Andrew. But after two months of an empty position, he thought that perhaps God wanted him in that role. With his class work and leadership role in Christian Impact, it was a lot to take on.

"I was quite concerned as a parent all the time he spent on that," says his dad, Tim, "but it was clear the Lord's hand was in it."

The contributing students would meet at various places on their New Hampshire campus, often in a white, sterile room with the covers of the various other campus publications plastered to the walls. They'd talk about what they were going to publish as well as edit one another's work. Articles like "The Edge of Heaven" and "Dumpster Diving" began to emerge. The idea was taking shape.

Then writers began dropping out.

Either they never wrote the article they said they would, or they refused to make edits and revisions. Just before spring break, the cover story—the second one slated—fell through. It was close to the final deadline. So Andrew, as executive editor, decided to write the article. He planned to go on a mission to Mexico but had gotten pneumonia, so he stayed in New Hampshire and spent his entire vacation writing about Galileo. When he finished, a friend edited it, cutting it in half, and Andrew gave him part of the credit.

"What these guys are doing is attempting to have an intellectual discussion. They show the deep heritage Christianity has brought to academia," says Professor Fairbrothers, who helped edit that article and the entire journal. "They're attacking the stereotype of Christianity as anti-intellectual."

Finally, all the pieces were ready—the designs were in, donors had contributed—Dartmouth even acknowledged them as a student group—and so they published the very first issue. They printed almost 2,000 copies, enough for half of the student body.

Students picked up copies at the school library, received them from friends, some even read it online. Both the college and city newspapers featured articles about the creation of The Apologia. In no time, Dartmouth students and people from 11 countries had read it.

Believers and unbelievers alike posted comments to the articles on the Web site.

One student posted a question online: "If heaven is far beyond our comprehension in its wonder and light, is hell conversely beyond our comprehension in its pain and misery?"

It's caused other dialogues, too. One of Andrew's friends, Sharat Raju, whose parents are Hindu but who himself went to a Catholic school, has described his own spiritual beliefs as "all over the place." But about The Apologia, he acknowledged, "It promotes good discussion and interesting debates." Sharat said he found Christianity's emphasis on helping the poor intriguing. He and Andrew often talk about faith, which is also an emphasis of Christian Impact.

"We're seeing that students are far more inclined to listen to those they know and trust," says Chris West.

The journal is leaving an impression outside of Dartmouth, too. Students from the College of William & Mary, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Maine have read the publication and e-mailed Andrew asking for help to start one on their campuses.

Andrew is thrilled. The journal is succeeding in creating discussions and helping put God on the minds of his peers. The first page in the journal, his letter from the editor, explains, "The Dartmouth Apologia  is founded upon the belief that what one thinks about God is of the utmost importance. We believe that one's choice of religion, including no religion at all, is the most important choice any of us will ever make. Religion, while on the one hand a deeply personal faith, is also the philosophical framework that guides our thoughts, our values, and our lives."

But Andrew also knows the cost: "If I knew how much work it was going to be," he says, "I would have been far more hesitant." His grade-point average suffered, but he still earned As and Bs.

Yet The Apologia  was so well received that Andrew and his friends decided it was worth it, and plan to publish more journals—two this school year.

The conversations continue.

Editors Note: If you'd like to see The Dartmouth Apologia online or post a comment to one of the articles, visit www.dartmouthapologia.org.