This past fall the Interfaith Council, a student body representing faith groups on campus, achieved their foremost objective: to formulate plans for an ideal interfaith building on campus and pass the proposal into the hands of the administration. With this success under their belt, the groups have now turned to new objectives.
When initially interviewed in Spring Term of last year, sophomore and President of the Interfaith Council Rebecca Katz was in the midst of creating a plan with a half dozen faith organizations on campus who wanted to create a centralized religious space.
Five groups signed a proposal to build a new building devoted to religious groups: Newman Club, Islamic Club, Orthodox Christian Fellowship, Hillel Club and Pagan Club. Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF), while personally supportive of the proposal, could not officially endorse the petition, as they function as a part of a national organization.
In the proposal, students asked for a large gathering space, semi-private prayer spaces and the availability of storage, among other requests. As of Fall Term, they were able to submit the proposal for administration consideration with an understanding that none of the students were likely to see the idea come to fruition during their time as students.
The Center for Intercultural Life provided a working solution in the meantime when, this past fall, they moved on campus to the former 50 Year Club house next to Williston. As a nod to the religious clubs seeking a concrete place to meet, the vacated space called the ‘Quad Cottage’ became available for student reservations with a preference for religious clubs.
“That was a really big deal,” junior and President of Newman Club Aly Eastman said of the new space. “For simply going and praying in there, it’s a great space. Is it ideal because it’s in the Quads where it’s very loud? Not exactly, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”
While excited for a temporary place to call home, students recognize some of the space’s limitations on full usage.
As the Quad Cottage operates on a reservation basis, it still lacks what the students hope for in a permanent space: freedom to come and use the place for prayer at anytime and encourage causal interactions between people of different religions. Senior and President of IVCF Eric Vogel also noted that his club’s numbers were too large to comfortably use the space for meetings.
Senior Nathan Kemp also noted there was some initial confusion over the new arrangements. When the CIL moved, Pagan Club intended to continue meeting wherever CIL did, as the Center took supplies with them that Pagan Club often borrowed.
“In the Quad Cottage there is no more equipment for the kitchen, and there’s no furniture except for regular chairs, and there’s no white board. So it was a serious downgrade for what we had,” Kemp said.
There is potential for new materials to be added in the future, but combining budgets can be difficult when so many different groups need to coordinate. At this time, most of the clubs use the house on an individual basis for prayer.
Beyond the issue of a joint meeting place, students are beginning to look more toward making connections with other religious people on campus.
“We’ve kind of expanded our mission from just finding a space,” Katz said. “We’ve realized there is this wider idea of what it means to have a religious space on campus, that it means not only that we have our own cloistered space É but that we can reach out to the campus and make it a home for religions.”
During Fall Term the clubs hosted a successful mixer, discussing the topic of religion broadly, and on Jan. 16 the groups hosted an event centered around different religious holidays.
Katz estimates that 80 percent of students who attended the first event were already affiliated with a religious club, but she hopes to tap an interest from students who are not necessarily religious but have an interest in discussing religion.
“It was a really interesting group of people who normally wouldn’t be together,” Katz said.
Eastman agreed. “This is our first full year of doing this together, this interfaith group. I think our main goal right now is just doing big event every term, kinda staying in contact with each other throughout the yearÉ [If] we can just have one big event like this, then it’s a good place to start.”
The interfaith groups hope to meet again later in Winter Term and participate in a group service project.