GW should create interfaith center to foster religious community on campus

Like most eager freshmen, I knew I wanted to be engaged in student life when I got to campus. I planned to write for the student newspaper and get involved with a theater group or join a sorority, all of which I did. And as someone who grew up attending church and being part of a very tight-knit youth group, I also planned to get involved with GW’s campus ministry – until, that is, I learned we didn’t have one.

As a Protestant Christian who practices regularly, like many other Christian students I’ve talked to, I’ve never felt that there is a spiritual community for me at GW. We don’t have a specific student organization that has consistent events throughout the year, and there isn’t an official religious life center that can facilitate programming. I try to attend services at a local Presbyterian church as many Sundays as I can, or at least watch the livestream from the church I grew up attending, but I would much rather have a community of GW students to bond with through worship and community events.

This project would not be cheap or easy by any means, but its impact on students yearning for a religious community would be worth every penny.

Although there are 22 student organizations on campus that are religiously affiliated, some of these groups are much more active than others. This isn’t meant to criticize religious student organizations but to demonstrate that students whose religions are represented by an active organization are able to have a religious life at GW that others are not. And this isn’t just about Christians. Even though some religious groups have their own space on campus, there isn’t a more general space open to students of all religions. These students deserve a center for spiritual life on campus where they can participate in religious practices and engage in community activities with each other.

With the exception of GW Catholics, there isn’t a consistently active Christian community for students at GW. There are 14 Christian student organizations on campus, but the only one that has had their own building is GW Catholics, which was recently forced to evacuate its townhouse due to damage from cold weather. The presence of most of the other groups is quite sporadic, as the last event that Hope Christian Fellowship promoted on their website was for the Student Organization Fair at the 2016 Colonial Inauguration. A religious life center wouldn’t completely remedy the infrequent activity of these organizations, but it would be much easier for these groups to host events if they had an established space to do so and didn’t have to rent out rooms in the Elliott School of International Affairs or Marvin Center.

GW does have a Multicultural Student Services Center that has its own building and provides support for religious student organizations, but it’s not the same as a religious life center. The MSSC supports a number of cultural communities at GW, including black, LGBT and Latinx students. It’s great that the MSSC is committed to supporting so many communities, but because of this, they aren’t able to accommodate religious students with the programming or physical space that religious life centers at other schools do.

Some students will argue that because GW is a nondenominational school with a liberal campus, there isn’t a need to establish any center for religious life. But schools don’t need to be affiliated with a religion, like Georgetown University, to have a place where students can participate in religious practices and commune with each other. Two of our peer schools, Tufts and Boston universities, have multifaith chapels and employ several chaplains who each oversee a different religious group to ensure that all students are represented. This also allows students who practice different religions to feel that they have a community that shares their spirituality, which is important on college campuses that can often feel lonely for religious students, according to a recent survey from the Interfaith Youth Core.

This isn’t to say that a religious life center should replace individual student organizations. Tufts and BU both have religious student groups in addition to the more official programming from their religious life center or chaplain. A religious life center at GW would provide one place for student organizations to engage in worship and community activities and hold interfaith events with each other. The interfaith aspect is especially important because college is one of the only times in a person’s life where they are surrounded by people of all different backgrounds and religions. There won’t be many other instances where Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations are able to come together for an Interfaith Dinner as they did this November in the Marvin Center. A religious life center would lend itself to a more consistent schedule of year-round programming, which would result in a higher rate of these interfaith events.

It’s completely logical that GW should create a center for religious life on campus, considering how the University prides itself on sustaining a diverse and inclusive community.

With our campus’ limited space, GW would likely need to acquire a new townhouse on campus to create a religious life center. The school could establish a fundraising campaign for the money needed to buy and renovate the house, which religious student organizations could help fundraise for. This project would not be cheap or easy by any means, but its impact on students yearning for a religious community would be worth every penny.

It’s completely logical that GW should create a center for religious life on campus, considering how the University prides itself on sustaining a diverse and inclusive community. The way GW should demonstrate the multifaceted nature of religion within its student body is not to simply say that the school encourages religious diversity, but to create a program that represents students of a large variety of religious identities.

Natalie Prieb, a sophomore majoring in English and creative writing, is a Hatchet columnist.

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