Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Health Promotion, Education and Behavior


The Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health

First Advisor

Gabrielle M. Turner


Since the 1800s, religious organizations have been a presence on public universities. However, there is limited research on the influence these organizations may have on student health communication and behaviors. Prior research on campus ministries has focused primarily on the culture of individual organizations. In this study, researchers explored the goals and experiences of USC leaders related to communication around sexuality with their students, as well as student perceptions of these messages, and how students incorporate religious messages about sexuality into their lives. The present study had four aims:

1. Assess whether students participating in campus ministries at USC differ from other students in safe sex knowledge and behaviors.
2. Explore students’ responses to and utilization of messages about sexual health disseminated by campus faith organizations.
3. Describe the ways in which campus ministry leaders approach sexual health topics and messages with students.
4. Compare the perceptions of sexual health messages among students who participate in faith organizations to the campus ministry leaders’ intentions regarding sexual health messaging.

Data were collected through online surveys with undergraduate students, both participants and nonparticipants in student religious organizations; in-person semi-structured interviews with campus ministry leaders; and focus groups with campus ministry students.

Survey findings indicated students who participated in student religious organizations had similar levels of sex education knowledge, sexual decision making skills, and comfort talking about sex as their nonparticipant peers; however, they reported a significantly lower mean number of sexual partners in the past year (1.2 vs 2.5, p=0.018). Additionally, students who participated in student religious organizations were significantly more likely than their nonparticipant peers to identify religious organizations (odds ratio=5.54, p=0.008) and medical professionals and educators (odds ratio= 3.37, p=0.021) as their primary sources of information about romantic relationships. In surveys, focus groups, and interviews, both students and campus ministry leaders stated that discussions of sexuality in campus ministry settings can be uncomfortable and should be approached with caution. In interviews and focus groups campus ministry leaders and students emphasized that established personal relationships facilitated discussions of sexuality. Discussions of sexuality in campus ministries were often driven by events in the lives of campus ministry students and leaders. Campus ministry leaders expressed their care for students and the desire to support students' spiritual development and overall wellness. Ministry leaders reported helping student navigate social relationships and facilitating access to other resources at the university and in the surrounding community. They connected to students by creating safe spaces, sharing personal stories, and taking advantage of opportunities for conversation created by scripture reading or student interests. A major challenge these campus ministry leaders reported was the difficulty in navigating the services and resources of a large university, given their lack of official university affiliation.


© 2016, Charis Rebecca Davidson