Wichita State criticized for changing chapel for Muslims

AP News
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Posted: Oct 07, 2015 1:02 PM

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Wichita State University has announced plans to consider changing a campus chapel again after critics took aim at the school for renovating the religious space to accommodate Muslims.

The May renovation of the Harvey D. Grace Memorial Chapel removed the tiny altar and pews after Muslims at the university said in the spring that they wanted space to kneel and pray, the Wichita Eagle reported (http://bit.ly/1j7qT2F ).

The family that made the chapel possible in 1964 specified that it remain open to all creeds and races. But dozens of Wichita residents learned about the renovation after Wichita State alumna Ann Cusick posted the changes to her Facebook page Friday and said taking out the pews marginalized Christians.

After that, university donors, alumni and others began posting comments and contacting university administrators.

Wichita State President John Bardo said Tuesday in a statement on the university's Facebook page that the school will consider changing the chapel's furnishings once again.

"I don't think that change (the renovation done in May) was undertaken with enough consideration of the feelings of all elements of the campus and broader community," Bardo wrote. "Our goal should be exactly what Mrs. Grace set out to do in her gift, to have an all faiths chapel that is welcoming to all religious groups on campus."

Muslim students said they feel taken aback by the move. They asked for the accommodation in part, because they had difficulty finding prayer spaces on campus; there are 1,000 Muslims among Wichita State's 14,450 students.

"How would you feel if I said that because you are a Christian that you are bad?" said Fayez Al-ruwaili, a 20-year-old junior studying biomedical engineering.

Bardo appointed Eric Sexton, vice president for student affairs, to study whether to come up with a plan to hear ideas and concerns. Sexton said Tuesday he'd spend "whatever time it takes" to talk to students, donors, alums and the Wichita community.

"We'll do this in a professional way, in a respectful way, in an interfaith way," Sexton said.

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Information from: The Wichita (Kan.) Eagle, http://www.kansas.com