Jasleen Bhasin, a sophomore in the College of Business Administration, lives and works on Marquette’s campus. But to practice her faith, she has to take a bus —all the way to the Sikh temple near General Mitchell International Airport.
“We don’t mind going there,” Bhasin said, “but it would be nice if we had a place of prayer on campus.”
The Sikh student population on campus is small, Bhasin said, and she is working to create awareness through an as-of-yet-unnamed student organization. She said most people do not understand the fundamental teachings of the religion, a comparatively young faith at only 500 years old. Many confuse Sikhism with Islam, as both religions call for the wearing of turbans and long hair. The religion is faced with stereotyping and discrimination, she said, because of the lack of awareness and understanding.
“I am so proud to be a Sikh,” Bhasin said. “Most people don’t even know what it is. I want to let them know more about Sikhism; then they can choose to respect it or not.
While most students at Marquette identify as Catholic, there are many other world religions represented on campus, including Judaism, Hinduism and Islam.
According to the Fall 2011 census of first-time, full-time students, 62 percent of incoming students are Catholic, and 19 percent are of another Christian religion. Students who ascribe to other world religions or have no religious affiliation make up 3 percent each, and 13 percent did not report or did not know their affiliation.
Arica VanBoxtel and Bill Neidhardt, the newly elected president and vice president of Marquette University Student Government, said they are open to learning more about diverse religions on campus. Their platform focused on improving diversity and inclusivity at Marquette, but they want to hear what students have to say about the topic of religious diversity before formally addressing it.
To begin the process, VanBoxtel said a President’s Diversity Task Force will be created to gather perspectives representative of various groups on campus. The task force builds on the current MUSG Diversity Roundtable discussions, which bring together students to converse and make suggestions for improvements to inclusivity on campus.
“Every student should have the opportunity to voice their opinions and concerns,” VanBoxtel said. “It is our goal to listen to students and hear what they want to see on campus.”
Neidhardt said the task force will continue to forge a relationship between MUSG and Campus Ministry. The organizations worked together earlier in the year to make improvements to the Muslim Prayer Space in the Alumni Memorial Union. Neidhardt, who co-authored the legislation for improvements, said members of Campus Ministry brought the issue to MUSG’s attention and helped in writing the legislation.
“(Campus Ministry’s) expertise and heartfelt desire for every student to express their faith fully was a driving force for that legislation and is certainly something we want to bring to the taskforce,” Neidhardt said.
Steve Blaha, assistant director of Campus Ministry, said student support from MUSG and the Muslim Student Association was integral in the project. The Muslim Prayer Space, located on the fourth floor of the AMU, can now be regularly accessed by students, rather than only for communal prayer on Fridays. Daily prayer is offered at 1 p.m.
Blaha said he would like to see a bigger space provided for students in the future, as the current room is not sufficient for the Muslim community’s needs.
The ideal Muslim Prayer Space, Blaha said, would be large enough to accommodate 50 or more people and include a gathering place outside the prayer room. Ablution, or ritual washing, facilities would also be offered, so that students do not have to use public restrooms to wash. A larger prayer space in the center of campus, along with the Chapel of the Holy Family and the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, is as symbolic as it is convenient for students to access.
“The central location sends the important message that the university is grounded in faith,” Blaha said.
In addition to improvements to the Muslim Prayer Space, Campus Ministry has been working with university administration to create more prayer spaces on campus that are easily accessible to students. Each residence hall has an ecumenical chapel, but students not living in the halls cannot access them.
“Within the next year, we will be exploring the possibility for more flexible spaces that could be available to a variety of faith traditions while still honoring those traditions,” Blaha said
In addition to offering Catholic Masses every Sunday at the Chapel of the Holy Family and Monday through Thursday nights at the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, Marquette also sponsors worship opportunities for other Christian faiths. Eastern Orthodox Vespers are held on selected Tuesday evenings at the St. Joan of Arc Chapel, and Lutheran services are held Sundays at 6 p.m. in the Chapel of the Holy Family. Jewish services are held at Hillel Milwaukee, 3053 N. Stowell Ave., on the East Side.
Still, Blaha said he would like to do more programming for lesser-known faiths, such as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Hinduism and Sikhism. Marquette may be a religiously-affiliated university, but it should also continue to set a standard of inclusivity, he said.
“We want to be a place that does a service to the greater world,” Blaha said. “There is plenty of violence and strife over religion. Marquette should be a model of dialogue, growth and communication in religion.”
Campus Ministry intends to enhance this communication by collaborating with ministers from faiths on campus to help students learn more about their own faith and that of others. The goal is for all students to view their faith and their inherent person as welcome at Marquette, especially if they are not Catholic.
“We want to invite students to explore who they are as human beings through both reason and faith,” he said, “We want to better embody that students of all traditions are invited to grow in their faith here.”