Town Hall meeting Friday tackles chapel discussion

Westboro+Baptist+Church+is+expected+to+protest+at+Wichita+State+on+Friday+because+of+the+universitys+inclusion+efforts%2C+including+the+Grace+Memorial+Chapel.

Westboro Baptist Church is expected to protest at Wichita State on Friday because of the university’s inclusion efforts, including the Grace Memorial Chapel.

Ascha Lee

In response to the recent controversy surrounding changes to Grace Memorial Chapel, Student Government Association held a town hall meeting Friday for students, faculty and community members to engage in discussion about the issue. About 50 people attended.

Eric Sexton — vice president of Student Affairs and executive director of Athletics — opened the meeting with a brief history of events, and stressed the conversation would be structured and held in the most respectful way possible.

“The opportunity to have these kinds of fruitful discussions in a healthy, positive, respectful way is what we do at universities and what our goals and objectives here at Wichita State University are,” Sexton said. “Tonight, we have a wonderful panel that embraces the breadth of perspectives that we need in order to have a healthy dialogue.”

The panel included SGA Sen. Taben Azad, concerned community member Lisa Ritchie, graduate student Chandler Williams — who was a proponent of the original SGA resolution — and the Rev. Christopher Eshelman, board chairperson for Campus Ministries. The discussion was led by moderator Jay Price, director of the history department, and facilitated by Sexton.

The panelists were asked several questions regarding their stances on the controversy and were given a specific amount of time to answer.

All panelists agreed that respecting all faiths was a top priority for them, no matter what their individual opinions were.

“We can all agree that faith shapes who we are,” Williams said. “Other faiths, in my experience, can only help your personal faith grow stronger, not hinder it. We are finally exposing something that has been silent for too long. Disagreement is not a problem, but disrespect is a problem.”

Ritchie disagreed with the renovations to the chapel.

“I’m standing up for Jesus Christ,” Ritchie said. “I’m sad that this Christian chapel has been turned into an interfaith building. I think she (Mrs. Harvey D. Grace) intended it to be a Christian church to point all creeds and faiths to Jesus Christ.”

Sexton explained during his opening address that Grace intended for the chapel to be used by many different faiths for their worship. However, Ritchie said she thought Grace donated the funds for the chapel with the intent of it being a place for people of other religions to learn about and only worship according to the Christian faith.

The rest of the panel appreciated Ritchie’s presence and input as a concerned community member, and audience members said they thought the different perspectives from the panel were productive.

“I think it’s awesome that they got a diversity of opinions on the panel,” said Kiah Duggins, SGA chief of staff.