Of different faiths
GVSU seeks to improve religious inclusion
As Grand Valley State University continues to diversify, religious affiliations and opportunities for students to explore, observe and celebrate such faiths become more important on campus.
According to the 2011 myGVSU survey, about 67 percent of the 7,300 student respondents were affiliated with a Christian denomination.
Agnostics, atheists or students affiliated with no denomination made up about 21 percent of respondents, while students who identified with non-Christian religions made up about 10 percent.
“Overall, Grand Valley has a great representation of all religious groups; however, our institutional practices are not so inclusive,” said Anthony Clemons, vice president of the Student Senate’s Diversity Affairs Committee. “We are currently very Judeo-Christian in nature. We have plenty of prayer space for those religions, and often our invocations are reminiscent of the Christian Bible, which tend to not be as inclusive as we would hope.”
Clemons is coordinating discussions on the issue of religious inclusion on campus with the senate’s Diversity Affairs Committee and is continuing to research the most efficient ways to help GVSU become more religiously and spiritually inclusive. With the research collected and through meetings with university members, Clemons and the committee hope to contribute in a direct manner to the formation of varied religious opportunity.
“We are looking at possibly recommending to the university the creation of an Interfaith Institute similar to the Office of Multicultural Affairs and LGBT Resource Center,” Clemons said. “We are also looking at current prayer space and if it is possible to expand those spaces to be more inclusive and more institutionally intentional on where those spaces are.”
There are currently a number of different faith-based student organizations on campus. Although GVSU does have many opportunities for students to get involved with religiously-affiliated organizations, the space to hold such events is hard to come by.
“Some of our students seek a quiet place to pray, meditate or reflect,” said Dwight Hamilton, assistant vice president for Affirmative Action. “Appropriate space is scarce on campus, so that’s one challenge. Another frequent problem occurs when significant campus events are scheduled on religious holidays. As a public university, we do ask that planners are aware of potential conflicts so that they can be avoided when possible in the spirit of inclusion.”
The Division of Inclusion and Equity is also a resource for students seeking assistance with getting reasonable accommodations for the everyday observance of their faiths or when activities conflict with classroom obligations.
Although the idea of creating an equal-opportunity approach to religion is what GVSU strives for, it is not so much an issue of providing for religions on campus as it is to foster an environment that is inclusive for students to practice their faiths, as well as those who do not practice any religion.
“GVSU students, staff and faculty observe religious traditions from a variety of religions,” Hamilton said. “GVSU acknowledges the right of all to engage in religious observances, (and) the university is committed to accommodate the exercise of that right. GVSU values a multiplicity of opinions and backgrounds and is dedicated to incorporating multiple voices and experiences into every aspect of its operations.”