WSU interfaith chapel at the center of more controversy

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – There could be more roadblocks ahead for Wichita State University’s Interfaith Chapel.

On Monday, dozens of student leaders, staff and city officials gathered to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Grace Memorial Interfaith Prayer Space.

“It means that we are all the same. Everybody has their own religion and their own way of practicing what he is doing. It’s like freedom,” said Wichita State Junior Mohamed Awad.

In May of 2015, workers renovated the campus chapel and removed the pews so that people of all faiths had a place to pray.

Wichita State administrators thought the change would give Muslim students a place to kneel on the floor and pray. Christian students could use portable chairs. However, the renovation was hit with a lot of backlash from donors, alumni, and others.

The University Student Government Association held numerous town hall meetings to educate people about the renovations, and the chapel’s purpose on campus.

“It’s a great way to commemorate that after a year of a lot of the controversy from the community, as students we can come together despite our differences in faith, despite our differences in religion, color, in anything,” said WSU Student Government Association Vice President Tabed Azad.

Since the renovations, student government leaders have continued the conversation for more renovations to the chapel. In August, leaders submitted a proposal to WSU President John Bardo and his executive team.

The proposal outlined a number of improvements to be made to the chapel including the addition of security cameras, a wash station, lockers and improved lighting. It also explained that the space would forbid proselytization, the attempt to convert or recruit a person to a certain religion.

According to student government leaders, Bardo’s executive team responded to them on October 1 and said the changes can be made to the prayer space as long as the University does not have to pay for the renovations.

“It’s kind of confusing for me and as the student body leader. I don’t know what I go back and tell my constituents to say, you know, the University is on board, but they said don’t touch these University dollars,” WSU Student Government Association President Joseph Shepard.

Shepard said he was confused by the administration’s response to his team’s proposal. KSN asked Shepard what he would like to say to the administration.

“I want to say to the administration, if we truly believe that we are the most diverse institution in the state of Kansas, if we truly believe we want to be an institution that reflects the evolving diversity that we see in society, then we must cater to the needs of diverse students and we must make sure that the voices of diverse students are being heard,” Shepard said.

KSN reached out to the Wichita State communications team on Monday night for comment regarding the administration’s response to the proposal.

WSU Provost and Senior Vice President Dr. Anthony Vizzini said he and his staff are in constant communication with the Student Government Association. He said the executive team reviewed the proposals with an understanding and agreement that the renovation would be paid with non-University appropriated funds.

Vizzini said WSU only has a few security cameras on campus and they are in strategic places like the library and the student center. He said the University does not plan on putting in more cameras, per WSU policy and practice. He said the same goes for additional lighting around campus and around the chapel.

Vizzini said the WSU will also not pay for the installation of a wash station because the station could be perceived as an expenditure for specific religious clientele. As far as adding lockers inside of the chapel, Vizzini said that is already in the works citing the fact that the lockers can benefit everyone.