Including religious minorities on campus

Claire Fodell

Last week, Grand Valley State University’s Student Senate passed a resolution that it hopes will lead to more religious inclusiveness on campus. The senate voted to add a prayer space for students and faculty that accommodate religions other than the Judeo-Christian majority.

Members of the diversity affairs committee sponsored the resolution. Vice President of the DAC Anthony Clemons said the current space for minority religions is not adequate for students or faculty.

“If you’re part of a non-Judeo-Christian religion and you want to pray, you are instructed to go upstairs in Kirkhof into a cubicle room that is within earshot of the blender from the Lobby Shop,” Clemons said.

The loud noise from the shop ruins the atmosphere of a “quiet” place to reflect, he said.

Senator Cameron Saghaiepour, a member of the DAC and sponsor of the resolution, said faculty members who identify with other religions also have trouble finding prayer space.

“Even for some faculty members that do practice here, they have to find a spot or find a corner in a building and worship there,” Saghaiepour said.

Judeo-Christians on campus, on the other hand, have a whole building dedicated to their religious reflection.

“If you look at current prayer space on campus, you have the Cook-DeWitt Center, which is the place to go when you identify with the Judeo-Christian religion,” Clemons said.

The senate worked with the Jewish student organization, Hillel, and the Muslim Student Association while creating this resolution. Both groups told Saghaiepour that not having an adequate space for prayer is their main struggle with practicing their religion.

The senate plans to stay in contact with both groups, as well as other faith-based organizations on campus, to be able to create a prayer space that will meet the needs of all the different religions represented on campus.

“Creating a (prayer) space not only shows the university’s commitment to diversity and to a diverse representation of religion, but also shows students that we care about every single student, not just the 70 percent who identify with a Judeo-Christian religion,” Clemons said.

The resolution doesn’t include specific building plans, such as the size or location of the prayer space, but the senate is currently working with facilities to find an adequate spot.

The resolution will now be presented to the Board of Trustees and will be put into different discussions with campus leaders to come up with a plan of where and how the prayer space will best fit on campus.

Clemons said there is no telling when exactly construction will begin on the space.

“Discussions are already taking place, so the space could be created three weeks from now or it could be three years from now. There’s not really a set date,” he said. “The sooner the better on our end, but unfortunately as with the new library, the new science building and the new bookstore, these things take time.”

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