Students find sanctuary amid college life

By Kate Daniel, Eagle Life Editor


Easterner Graphics
Several students have formed faith groups, which include Chi Alpha, the Saudi club and the Compassionate Interfaith Society.


Some students use prayer for religious or spiritual guidance while others employ it as a method of relieving the pressure brought on by spring quarter classes, job searches, the approach of graduation and 21st century life in general.

“Prayer, even when undertaken by atheists, can be understood as a mental exercise for focusing upon the good, one’s blessings, one’s hopes, one’s moral responsibilities in the face of a crisis or challenge; hence, prayer, broadly defined, can be viewed as beneficial by people of all worldviews,” said Kenney Garrett, religious studies professor at EWU.

While Gonzaga and Whitworth have chapels in which students can pray, EWU does not currently have a designated spot for students to go. Many students have formed faith-based groups such as Chi Alpha and the Compassionate Interfaith Society. Some of these groups and organizations hold regular prayer meetings open for students to attend.

Muhammed Omar, a pre-med sophomore who spent his childhood growing up in Ethiopia, said that in Ethiopia the call to prayer can be heard for miles around, whereas in the United States, people are generally more reserved. A practicing Muslim, Omar said he often uses empty classrooms in which to pray.

Zieb Alqahtani, a Muslim student from Saudi Arabia, said that he too uses empty classrooms in which to pray. He and Omar both said their lives on campus would be greatly benefited by the designation of a prayer room. Alqahtani said that the necessity of using empty classrooms means the possibility of being interrupted by incoming classes or wandering students.

Alqahtani said Saudi Club members have been asking EWU administration to supply such a room for well over a year. He said he would like the room to be open to students of all faiths—a sanctuary in which to practice religion freely and peacefully.

According to the 2012-2013 ASEWU President Becca Harrell’s reports to the EWU Board of Trustees, Caleb Morgan, ASEWU diversity outreach representative, has been working with the campus faith groups to progress the plans for an interfaith space within the PUB upon its remodel.

Ayesha Malik, an officer in the Compassionate Interfaith Society, confirmed that the group is working to plan a space for students of all faiths to pray in the PUB.

Benjamin Bouwman, a junior at EWU, is a member of the Christian prayer and bible study group Chi Alpha. The group holds weekly group prayer meetings in or outside of the PUB.

Bouwman said that he supposes anywhere quiet is a good place to pray, but could not think of anywhere specific that students preferred to go.

He said that prayer is a good way for students to stay connected with God and avoid the temptations to stray from their faith that college life may present.

Allison Schmalli Stillmaker, a senior at EWU and member of Chi Alpha, said she attends weekly prayer group meetings and also prays on her own while walking through campus.

She said that as a community adviser in Morrison, she has observed many students who live in the residence halls praying in their rooms or in the study rooms.

Schmalli Stillmaker said that she thinks of prayer as an opportunity to relax and meditate, a chance to release some of the worries associated with busy, complex collegiate life.

“The act of giving up what you’re worrying about is a big part of prayer, and also just being able to sit and be for a little bit,” she said. “Being able to take that time to relax is really important, not just spiritually, but physiologically.”

Students’ beliefs and practices may vary, but according to Kenney, one thing holds true.

“I do recall the old maxim that, ‘As long as there are tests on a campus, there will be prayer,’” Kenney said.