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Student leaders: administration never supported an interfaith prayer space

Danial Imran uses his jacket as a prayer mat while doing the Asr prayer in the Interfaith Prayer space on Wednesday. (Feb. 8, 2017)

Danial Imran uses his jacket as a prayer mat while doing the Asr prayer in the Interfaith Prayer space on Wednesday. (Feb. 8, 2017)

Brian Hayes

Brian Hayes

Danial Imran uses his jacket as a prayer mat while doing the Asr prayer in the Interfaith Prayer space on Wednesday. (Feb. 8, 2017)


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Student Body President Joseph Shepard said he doesn’t think some members of University President John Bardo’s executive board have ever supported the interfaith prayer space initiative.

“They do not wish to see this carried out just because of the political climate,” Shepard said.

Taben Azad, SGA vice president, said everything was going smoothly regarding the interfaith initiative until a one-on-one meeting with Lou Heldman, Vice President of Strategic Communications, in January.

He said Heldman told him anything mentioned on the university website about the interfaith prayer space would not be allowed.

In December, Azad said Heldman told him in an email everything regarding their interfaith initiative webpage was approved and encouraged him to speak with Tim Hart, director of web and news media for Strategic Communications, to begin working on the webpage idea.

Azad quickly contacted Hart and they agreed to meet after the holiday break.

Azad met with Hart and received approval to go forward with creating an interfaith initiative webpage to post on the university website.

Then, between Jan. 10th and 24th, something changed. Azad said Heldman contacted him to take back everything he said earlier about posting the initiative on the university website.

Heldman also said it is time for the university to move on from what happened in 2015, Azad said.

On January 26th, Azad said he emailed Heldman in order to see if he would come before the senate in order to answer some questions about the initiative not being allowed on the website.

Regarding his statements, Heldman directed The Sunflower to talk to Teri Hall, vice president of student affairs.

After the pews were removed from the chapel in 2015, community members and others surrounding the university  criticized the removal in October 2015, several months after the pews were removed. Much of the controversy was directed at Muslim students.

One of the proposals of the interfaith prayer space initiative is to purchase a washing station so that Muslim students are able to go through the proper rituals before praying. Shepard said Islamic ablution requires the washing of the feet and other parts of the body.

“Students have to wash their feet in a sink — I just can’t understand why the university would even think that’s appropriate,” Shepard said. “We have administrators recommending that.”

The interfaith prayer space proposal, which can be found on the university website, estimated the cost of installing a washing station in the RSC to be about $6,000.

In January, Taben said he and Shepard learned the university would not fund the washing station and SGA would have to find external sources to pay for it. They were also informed Marché Fleming-Randle, senior assistant dean of Fairmount college, would no longer be the Chair of the Chapel Committee and Hall would be the new chair by Bardo’s appointment.

Hall said the administration has sent clear signs about not supporting the interfaith prayer space through recent events.

“This is a pretty conservative state—a heavily Christian state,” Hall said. “I think sometimes that it can make these kind of initiatives more difficult.”

Before coming to WSU this semester, Hall said she worked at Towson University near Baltimore and a washing station was installed there.

“The big prayers were on Friday and we would have 75 to 100 students praying at one time and a single-use ablution station didn’t fulfill its purpose,” Hall said.

Hall said because the single-use station wasn’t effective at Towson, she wasn’t sure installing one would be right for WSU.

She said she spoke with the Muslim Student Association about helping them become a stronger, more sustainable group, which didn’t involve purchasing an ablution station.

“I’m used to the SGA and administration working hand-in-hand to make a difference out in campus,” Hall said. “This kind of division hurts my heart and I hope through time here I can help the SGA… work closely with the president’s executive team.”

Shepard said all SGA senators would like to see the initiative supported by the university and historically looked for support from the administration.

Azad said they met with all of the key groups on campus about the initiative and did all of the necessary research, yet the proposal did not get the backing from the administration.

“It’s honestly a delay game to keep pushing (the interfaith prayer initiative) to the next session,” Azad said. “We’re hoping we can stop this mentality of pushing [the initiative] even further and further under the rug.”

Hall, a member of Bardo’s executive team, said this issue takes up a lot of Shepard and Azad’s time.

“It feels that they’ve dug into this so much that they’ve forgotten that there are other issues to deal with,” she said.

Shepard said he thinks the station is an obvious student need and SGA and WSU staff members have an obligation to fulfill students’ needs.

Shepard said he has told multiple people asking a Muslim to wash their feet in a sink is like asking a Catholic to do confessional in a shack.


10 Responses to “Student leaders: administration never supported an interfaith prayer space”

  1. Real Shocker on February 9th, 2017 12:58 pm

    John Bardo directed all the changes be made to the Chapel in a memorandum dated March 23, 2015. Ask John Bardo to read it to the campus community. His memorandum directed exactly how it would be done and who would do it. His memorandum was followed to the letter. Only when the “Conservative Christians”, noted by Teri Hall, became aware several months later did John Bardo waffle. What “happened” is Andy Schlapp. Andy Schlapp and some politicians and donors spoke as only they could.


  2. GolfDad007 on February 9th, 2017 1:05 pm

    Here is a cause I can get behind. I think that if there are things needed to provide the proper worship environment for students in this interfaith building than it should be installed. Where the funds come from is a different subject. If the school is not willing to provide equipment then maybe this could be a great opportunity for people of different faiths working together to raise funds. One would think that in this current environment that fundraising efforts would be widely embraced.


  3. Shocker on February 9th, 2017 5:45 pm

    It isn’t the obligation of the university to fund Muslim needs. Catholics were brought up at the end of the article. Catholics provide their own worship space adjacent to campus. Muslims should fund and operate thier own space.


  4. Real Shocker on February 9th, 2017 10:53 pm

    I would like to hear Paige Hungate’s opinion on this issue since it seems she is planning to run for SGA President. In her January 26th Letter to the Editor she said, “I will not sit by and watch as students continually get silenced. I will not allow for viewpoints to become nullified and ignored due to their content. I will stand firm. I will respect and value you. And I will represent you.” Does Paige support the position and request of a religious minority group for something that has been approved and supported by the student body? Will she push back on the administration and not let students get silenced on this issue and others?

    I think it is important for readers to know Paige Hungate is a good friend of Laura Schlapp, who is Andy Schlapp’s daughter. Andy Schlapp is John Bardo’s Chief of Staff. How will Paige support minority student groups who might not be supported by the administration?

    Has Paige stood firm in support of students as a member of SGA and pushed back on the administration on the issues as the minority religious and sexual orientation/gender identification groups have been impacted by the administration?

    Does Paige oppose the administration for not supporting the requests of Muslim students at WSU for their religious needs? Does Paige not support Andy Schlapp requiring the Gender Neutral Shower and Bathroom banner be taken down in the Heskett Center for the small space renovated in support of transgender students even though not a single complaint had been raised in the year after the space was renovated?

    Paige also wrote in her January 26th Letter to the Editor, “Avoid actively persecuting and vilifying those who may not have similar thoughts as you and actually begin working with them.” Does she believe this applies to the administration as it relates to Muslim students? Transgender students? Gay students? Ethnic minority students? Does she believe it applies to WSU donors and supporters as it relates to members of minority groups? That it applies to members of the Kansas Legislature? Members of the Kansas Board of Regents? Members of Congress? If Paige believes the statement she wrote on January 26th she should publicly demand the Muslim students be supported and that the Gender Neutral Shower and Bathroom banner be put back in the Heskett Center to support transgender students. Do not persecute and vilify these students. Work with and support these students. Right?

    Paige has said in the past that there is no culture of fear among students in minority groups. It seems the majority categories for students at WSU are female for gender, white for ethnicity, conservative republican for political affiliation, heterosexual for sexual orientation, and Christian for religious affiliation. Which of these majority categories is Paige NOT a member? How can she know the culture that students in minority groups face?

    If Paige Hungate does indeed run for SGA President, I hope students ask her about her connections to the administration and how she will support and represent minority students given her connections to the administration.


  5. Jason Carmichael on February 12th, 2017 1:57 am

    I can’t understand why there is such a controversy over not being able to provide a facility that is already there! The campus has a full blown Catholic church right on campus. Somebody is probably going to say that the Church is technically not on campus, yea just like Eck stadium is “not” on campus, or the basement of the RSC is not on campus. (“Beer” baby, yea I said it!)

    Give us a break, get out of the kiddie pool. We are all different, let us all be our chosen self and get on with growth and prosperity. Everyone has to use the bathroom, and has their faith. You must respect them and let them do what they have to do.


  6. Shocker on February 12th, 2017 11:30 pm

    You can have confessions in a shack. I don’t understand why Joseph would say something like that.


    Shocker Reply:

    Can we PLEASE get a shack on campus so the Catholics have a place to go to confession? Can we also get a statue of Buddha for the Buddhists and a giant colander for the pastafarians somewhere on campus?


  7. Anna Miller on February 18th, 2017 7:48 am

    That’s a huge mistake – lots of students from Muslim countries need such places and it’s not a whim, it’s a requirement. Students can’t pray just in the classrooms or in the WCs. The administration must cope with this issue in the shortest period as it can lead to protest. Now, by the way, I am trying to write an essay about the rights of the students and their development. I have got no thoughts, unfortunately, and I think I will more likely to apply to the writing services UK to find the qualified writing help. Just because I omit stressful situations with the help of the essay writers, my academic process seems to be joyful and exciting!


  8. Peter on March 17th, 2017 11:19 am

    I entirely agree that the university needs to represent the needs of minority groups of students. Therefore, I hope that you will support our cause in pushing the university to provide free pasta every Sunday for all of the Pastafarians on campus. Our sacred religion requires us to eat fresh spaghetti each Sunday along with carefully seasoned ravioli and artisan cheeses imported from only the finest farms. After we feast on spaghetti, we must honor the Flying Spaghetti Monster by sampling a selection of fresh meatballs. The dormitories do not contain cooking facilities that allow us to make spaghetti matching His noodly perfection, so we maintain that it is the school’s responsibility to provide us with our meal of worship.

    Although we are a minority group on campus, we deserve equal representation from the university. Therefore, we will pressure and harass the university as much as necessary until our needs are met. If we work together, then we can ensure that the university allows all students an equal opportunity to practice their faith.

    In His noodly name we pray,


  9. alex andra0 on May 8th, 2017 1:34 am

    I never, and will never, support him and his administration. Chi Guy stole my thunder. If this government were a democratic, the Republican people Click Essay would fit with, and more so if it were the Clinton administration.


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