Uniting religions with an all-encompassing Interfaith Center

    Currently, UCSD has several resource centers available to students and the community. These include facilities like the Women’s Center, the Cross Cultural Center and the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Office. In 2001, a group was formed to oversee the creation of an additional location for information: an Interfaith Center.

    According to Thurgood Marshall College sophomore Emily Allen, the proposed center would serve the spiritual needs of students with spaces for student organizations to hold meetings and events pertaining to religious organizations. There would be informational resources and personnel available to help integrate students into the university to give counsel and guidance, to create an interfaith network and to educate inquiring students about different faiths.

    “”The committee sees an interfaith center as expanding the kinds of resources available to students,”” said Allen, who was chosen to attend the Interfaith Center Advocacy Committee meetings as a representative of the Methodist student community (the Wesley Christian Fellowship).

    The committee also enjoys support from 10 other religious groups on campus, several professors and faces no official opposition. The main obstacles in the way of creating this facility are money and space. Though the project was originally stalled 20 years ago due to issues surrounding separation of church and state, there is great precedent for Interfaith Centers in public universities.

    According to Kimberly Mersch, member of Catholic Community at UCSD and leader of ICAC, there are over 14 public universities that have Interfaith Centers, including UC Irvine. The issue with the separation between church and state is that there is no issue according to Mersch. An Interfaith Center is not designed to promote any religion, but rather be a spiritual resource center.

    There are currently 41 religious student organizations registered on campus, which causes difficulties in reserving rooms for large events.

    While this lack of space affects all student organizations, “”religious organizations are particularly hard hit because the nature of their purpose often leads them to meet on a weekly or even daily basis for prayer, scripture study or other means of personal growth,”” Allen said.

    Lynn Neu, pastoral associate of Catholic Community at UCSD and ICAC member, feels that the most important purpose of the center will be that people from different faith traditions will be “”rubbing elbows”” with each other because they will share space in tight quarters.

    “”I think that the more people get to know and understand one another. The greater the chance for collaboration, understanding and respect,”” Neu said.

    Many religious groups have permanent space in the area surrounding the university. However, members of the committee find this to be insufficient to support the large campus religious community.

    “”It’s difficult for first years,”” said Angela Santos, John Muir College senior and representative of the Catholic Student Community. She claims that the Interfaith Center would be a place for different groups on campus to come together as people of faith.

    The proposed Interfaith Center would include a kitchen, several conference rooms, an office, a quiet space and bathrooms in or near the facility. As UCSD currently stands, there is not enough room for individual student organization meeting spaces, let alone a permanent facility dedicated to religious organizations. ICAC is therefore presently putting all of its efforts behind promoting the upcoming fee referendum vote that will take place this week.

    “”A 20 percent voter turn out is needed for the vote even to be considered valid, “” Allen said. “”This amounts to 4,400 students. I believe a failed referenda is generally caused by poor voting turnouts. The university needs a clear mandate from students either way before it can take action on the expansion … whichever way students feel about the referendum, voting is the way to express that opinion.””

    However, the wording of the University Centers referendum does not specifically include plans to dedicate part of the expansion to an Interfaith Center. According to Mersch, former A.S. President Jenn Brown referred ICAC to the University Center Expansion Task force, but by the time the groups got in contact, the space was already allocated.

    “”Once again, the religious orgs seemed to have gotten lost in the shuffle,”” Mersch said. “”I am appreciative of what the current referendum is offering us, but as the very writers of the referendum have told me themselves, it is not an interfaith center.””

    University Centers director Gary Ratcliff has assured ICAC that religious organizations will get a dozen meeting spaces and that there will also be eight additional all-purpose conference rooms, but that space allocations in the projected expansion are “”negotiable.

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