Religion more visible on campus today

Publication Date: Wednesday Jun 17, 1998

STANFORD: Religion more visible on campus today

Accommodating different needs is a challenge, dean reports

by Don Kazak

Prospective Stanford students will sometimes call Robert Gregg and ask him how their needs for certain religious customs or practices will fare on campus. Gregg, the dean of Religious Life at Stanford, and his staff spend a fair amount of time negotiating with the Housing and Dining Services office for special student needs arising out their religious beliefs.

That trend is increasing, Gregg told the Faculty Senate last week during a report on religious life at Stanford.

Gregg said the number of students who describe themselves as religious may not have increased over the last decade, but they are becoming more vocal about their needs.

"Most of the world's major religions are supported by an active group of students on campus," Gregg said, noting there are now 30 such groups registered with his office. "We even have eight Zoroastrians, and there are only 100,000 of them in the world."

Gregg said the university tries to be accommodating when presented with a student's special religious needs, although he described it as negotiating a privilege instead of acknowledging a right.

For example, a devout Muslim freshman woman had doubts about living in a freshman dorm, because she said she would like to be able to walk down the hall to the bathrooms without having to put her yashmak, or veil, in place in case she encountered a male student.

Gregg found a compromise by housing the young women with three upperclass Muslim women students in a campus apartment, although the compromise meant the woman missed a good part of the freshman residential educational experience which Stanford structures so carefully for new students.

"Our philosophy is to try to accommodate these people, or else we are asking them to leave something outside" when they come to Stanford, Gregg said.

And while religious students may not be more numerous than in the past, they are much more evident on campus today. Gregg said an estimated 25 to 40 percent of undergraduates attend weekly religious group meetings or one kind or another, and 1,000 Catholics now attend weekly Mass at Memorial Church, as the largest congregation on campus.

A continuing problem, Gregg added, is finding appropriate worship space for the various religious groups. Protestants and Catholics use Memorial Church, Muslims use space at Bechtel International Center, and Jewish students use space in the Old Union.

"We have a need for spaces for worship," Gregg said. "We're continuing to try to find good space. It's under discussion." 

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