Story by Avery Gregurich
Despite a growing number of religion-specific residence halls on college campuses, many students at Drake University believe spiritual diversity is paramount when it comes to dorm life.
According to a recent article published in the New York Times, religiously-affiliated dormitories are gaining popularity. The Newman Student Housing Fund, a private Catholic development company, has opened three residence halls this year alone.
Two have been at public universities, while a third has been at the private Florida Institute of Technology.
The company is scaling its new residence halls off of the St. John’s Catholic Newman Center at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
According to the company’s website, the Newman Student Housing Fund’s mission is “to build these types of facilities where students can live their faith on secular college campuses all across the U.S.”
The New York Times article also indicated that the company has no plans of slowing down its construction plans. It plans to open one or two residence halls per year at both public and private institutions.
Drake students, however, feel this practice of faith-based residence halls hinders educating students in broader religious and cultural understandings.
Senior Eric Ferring, a community assistant at Drake West Village, was surprised after learning of these new faith-based housing options. He feels that these developments are a way of turning students off to religious discussion.
“This isn’t supporting religious dialogue,” Ferring said. “It’s allowing it to not happen.”
Ferring, former president of the Residence Hall Association (RHA), said he feels that learning doesn’t end with the classroom; it continues into residence halls.
He also sees the requirement of two years of on-campus living as a “great attribute to the Drake curriculum.”
“You are pretty much forced to involve yourself with a variety of people through your first-year seminar, hall programs and living with who is most likely a new roommate,” Ferring said.
He believes that programs such as the Religious Roundtable put on by the RHA, as well as the Working Group for the Infusion of Global and Multicultural Understandings at Drake are “opening the doors between religious organizations.”
Sophomore Cassandra White understands the premise behind faith-based housing. As a member of St. Catherine of Siena Catholic Church, she has personally felt the benefits of living with like-minded people.
“Last year, over half of my floor was Catholic or at least attended Mass at St. Catherine’s sometimes, and at the time, that was exactly what I needed,” White said. “That strong sense of community across campus from our hall to the church really kept me on track with my faith.”
This year, however, White is living with someone who does not share her religious background. She says this change has led her to become more perceptive of other religious viewpoints.
“There is a mix of religions on our floor,” White said. “We agree to disagree on most things, but it fosters a sense of understanding.”
Senior Alex Shaner accepts the premise behind why students would want to live with similar-minded students but, also sees the “tremendous benefits of exposing students to different backgrounds and values.”
“I believe more exposure to differences in race, gender, religion and political beliefs create a more informed and tolerant student body,” Shaner said.
On a personal level, he said he feels Drake students shouldn’t merely acknowledge the differences between them.
“I think it’s important to not only be aware of but understand why and how people think differently than you do,” Shaner said. “I think that is the goal of a liberal arts education.”
David Goodman, a junior, is the president of the Drake’s Secular Student Alliance. He feels that both public and private colleges that are constructing faith-based housing create barriers between different-minded students.
“(Faith-based housing) is problematic at universities to further separation between students with ideological differences,” Goodman said.
Goodman calls Drake a “robust” institution because it gives support toward and opportunities for interaction between students of different religious and cultural backgrounds. He also feels that despite the fact that Drake once affiliated itself with the Disciples of Christ, faith-based housing on campus isn’t an option.
“It goes against Drake’s mission statement,” Goodman said.
Current President of RHA Whitney Leming-Salisbury holds a similar stance as Eric Ferring. She believes that the multi-religious and multi-cultural residence halls at Drake take education beyond the classroom.
“The immense amounts of diversity in the residence halls and the classrooms at Drake enable students to learn things from each other that simply cannot be found in books,” Leming-Salisbury said. “It’s imperative for people, especially of our age and place in life, to understand the value in being surrounded by individuals of different backgrounds and mindsets.”
She feels that this existent diversity is the result of a constant push by Drake’s administration and student organizations.
“We are constantly encouraging diversity, openness and cultural awareness on our campus,” Leming-Salisbury said. “This sense of awareness is an imperative skill that is in high-demand outside of college.”