Dear President Roth,
The Faculty of the Muslim studies minor are, like Father Bill here, very concerned by the recent decision by the Office of Student Affairs to halve the number of chaplains in the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, with the long-term aim of having only one chaplain serving the community. The one remaining chaplain would have to outsource most of ORSL services to local religious centers. This currently leaves students of the Muslim and Protestant faiths at Wesleyan with no university-based chaplain to turn to in these difficult times. While we understand the very difficult financial circumstances that led to these short- and long-term decisions, the services provided by the chaplains are critical for the student body and the Wesleyan community at large, and should be prioritized by the university. Otherwise, we strongly believe that this decision will come at a real cost that is higher than the immediate savings it purports to enable.
For Muslim students at Wesleyan, the imam has been a prayer leader and a source of spiritual and religious strength and knowledge, and a counselor who has helped countless students in ways not available at CAPS or by other campus resources. At times, health issues are compounded by feelings of loneliness and marginalization that stem from the persistent difficulty of being religious in a secular institution, feelings that are further exacerbated for Muslim students who have to face additional discrimination related to Islamophobia. Just as Wesleyan has been intent on developing CAPS services, especially in a time of high stress and anxiety such as now, so should it develop rather than curtail the very important counseling services provided by Wesleyan-based chaplains. These chaplains understand the specific issues faced by college-age students in general while serving to create, nurture, and lead faith- and practice-based communities. Particularly important is the presence of an imam who is open to, and comfortable with, the vast cultural diversity of the Wesleyan Muslim student body itself, given how ethnically-specific the membership and leadership of many American mosques can be.
The imam’s services, however, do not just serve Muslim students. They serve our institution as a whole in its ability to become more inclusive. Many Muslim students – from both the US and abroad – have expressed to us the crucial role the presence of an imam at Wesleyan has played in their parents’ willingness to send their children to the university. In turn, the presence of an imam has played an essential role for these students to feel welcome when they first arrive, and to want to stay once at Wesleyan. The presence of an imam at Wesleyan signals a great deal to Muslim parents and students, as well as to the increasing number of Muslim staff and faculty: that Wesleyan is a place open to religious diversity, and a safe space for those from a discriminated minority to grow spiritually and religiously as well as academically. We cannot underestimate the reputational and financial consequences of this power of attraction, and the ripple effects this has on the retention of a diverse student and faculty body.
In light of the serious implications for the well-being and diversity of our Wesleyan community, we hope you will reconsider your decision and help reinforce, rather than diminish, the services provided by the ORSL by hiring a new imam, preferably full-time.
We thank you in advance for your consideration,
The Faculty of the Muslim Studies Minor