The dorm, which opened in August at Troy University, has brought both praise and criticism.
"Over time, our students indicated in surveys that their interest in faith and spiritual issues is very high compared to students across the land," said John W. Schmidt, Troy's senior vice chancellor for advancement and external relations. In building the dorms, Schmidt said, the university was "meeting a need for student housing but also satisfying some of our student requirements."
The John Henry Cardinal Newman Center residence hall was built to "provide a forum for discussing one's faith," Schmidt said. "We believe we have an obligation here at the university not only to teach a person how to earn a living but also how to make a life."
The Newman Center creates a sort of "ministry corridor." The Catholic Church has rented space for a chapel in the facility and the Baptist Campus Ministries (BCM) building is next door, with Methodist and Presbyterian ministries following in a row.
Both of the Newman Center buildings are coed -- the first and third floors of each building are for women and the second floor is for men.
To live in the Newman Center, in addition to a minimum GPA and recommendation letter, a student must be engaged in some sort of community service. The idea has been well received by students, Schmidt said. "Once it became known , 376 students filled that residence hall almost immediately."
But the Newman Center hasn't opened without challenges. Andrew L. Seidel, staff attorney for the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote a letter in August to Troy's chancellor, Jack Hawkins Jr., stating that faith-based housing was a "constitutional concern." Seidel wrote that "preferential treatment" for Christian and religious students in housing decisions "violates provisions of the Alabama Fair Housing Law, as well as corresponding provisions of the Fair Housing Act."
Initially university spokespersons had indicated that the Newman Center would give preference to Christian students but Schmidt said that idea has since been rescinded.
"The housing is open to all faiths, even to those who don't have a faith," Schmidt said, explaining that atheism is a kind of faith, "a faith that there is no God." The dorm is intended to foster a community of discussion and diversity, he said.
Kyle Ganus, president of Troy's BCM and a member of Bush Memorial Baptist Church in Troy, said some students who live in Newman Center say they have enjoyed the atmosphere so far, especially freshmen nervous about ending up in a party atmosphere. Others say it's not much different from other dorms.
But Ganus, a junior, said he believes it also could be a pitfall for Christians when it comes to sharing their faith and making disciples. "I think it's way too easy for us to clique up when we should be spreading out and living life with the other people on campus," he said.
At least two other schools -- one in Florida and one in Texas -- have faith-based dorms.
Grace Thornton is assistant editor of The Alabama Baptist (www.thealabamabaptist.org), newsjournal of the Alabama Baptist Convention.
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