Chapel usage quadruples since social media debates

A previous Campus Ministries director tried to host an Ash Wednesday service with station areas inside Grace Memorial Chapel before the pews were removed, but the lack of space “killed it,” said Jonathan Flesher, current director of Campus Ministries at Wichita State.

“It wasn’t flexible enough for what he wanted to do,” Flesher said.

In recent national social media debates, users have claimed Muslim students “took over” the chapel for prayers since the pews were removed in an effort to make the space more flexible. But how was the chapel actually used before the renovations? And how is it being used now?

Graduate student Isaac Roehr said he has been at WSU for five years, and during that time he said he never really saw anyone coming in or out of the chapel.

Roehr said he has only seen the chapel used for a couple of weddings, initiations for his fraternity and Multicultural Greek Council events.

“I know as a tall person those pews were not sufficient for my needs,” Roehr said. “I’m 6’4’’ and about 200 pounds, and I was really cramped in those pews so I’m glad they’re gone.”

According to Maria Ciski, director of Event Services, the chapel wasn’t used much before the renovations. She said the chapel has traditionally been utilized for prayer and meditation since it is open for use certain hours of the day.

Before the pews were removed last spring, the chapel was reserved on 51 occasions, or 4.25 times per month throughout 2014, according to data from Event Services. Since then — until the social media controversy began earlier this month — the chapel was used 33 times (6.6 times per month).

Since the controversy began Oct. 2, the chapel has been reserved for 24 events in 20 days. At 1.2 uses per day, the chapel is on track to be reserved 36.5 times in an average month.  

“The renovation process has put into consideration all general use and the needs of all faith traditions,” Flesher said Tuesday while preparing a chalk wall for a “Beyond Tolerance” event Wednesday.

Recently, groups like the Muslim Student Association, the Navigators and sororities like Zeta Phi Beta and Delta Sigma Theta have reserved slots of time for upcoming events.

Starting Sept. 24, MSA has reserved prayer times every weekday from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. and 4:15 to 5 p.m. MSA is using the chapel more than any other group on campus.

“Our adviser actually told us that while he was a student at WSU, he and a few other students would pray in the chapel,” said MSA President Maira Salim. “Although space was a little tight because of the pews, and many people could not pray at once, it was still a nice, tranquil place on campus that was perfect for praying.”

Salim said her adviser was a student about 20 years ago, so even though it wasn’t as spacious than as it is now, Muslim students have used the chapel for prayers for a while now.

“I feel like the chapel is especially important, not only to me, but it should be important to all students at WSU,” Salim said. “The one good thing out of the whole chapel issue is that it has actually brought our communities together.”

Roehr said he thinks the chapel controversy raises awareness that there is a space for students to use. He also said he was good friends with former Student Body President Matthew Conklin and Student Government Vice President Brandon Baltzell, who both had a large hand in the chapel renovations last spring.

“I have supreme faith in them and doing all of their research,” Roehr said. “They wouldn’t do anything if it wasn’t good for the students.

“I haven’t seen a post from one student who has been upset about the change.”