I’m going to be very upfront: I am an active member of the Catholic Students Association at the Columbia Newman Center. I am the secretary for the CSA steering committee, I led the behind-the-scenes staff for the annual Awakenings retreat and I am a writer and director for the annual Newman Week musical.
It was at one of the steering committee meetings that I found an issue that interests me as both a student and a member of the Newman community.
As you have undoubtedly heard, the past several years have shown a huge growth of incoming freshmen at MU. These record-breaking numbers have presented a bit of a problem for the university; there is no longer room to accommodate the classes, especially because of building renovation projects around campus. This has led the university to look into leasing extra space. One such place is the Newman Center.
As you might not know, the property at the Newman Center is not owned by the university; it is owned and operated by the Newman Center alone. With the exception of the parking lot (where the center rents spaces to the university), Newman uses the rooms and the facilities for the many programs they operate for the parish and the CSA.
MU approached our pastor, Fr. Thomas Saucier and asked about leasing space from the Newman Center to hold classes. They came, they looked and they discussed. Now, all of this is very preliminary — no decisions whatsoever have been made and the Newman Center is still deciding how to approach this. But the issue itself raises several concerns among my fellow CSA members.
1. What kind of classes will be held at the Newman Center? If you were taking a philosophy class about existentialism, would you feel comfortable in a classroom that had a crucifix hanging above the doorway? Saucier made it clear that he would not remove any religious icons from any of the rooms (or compromise the overt religiousness of the building in general), so avoiding it is not an option. Would things like this detract from the learning experience? Would they cause any anger or indignation?
2. What about graffiti or defamation? We all know that there are bound to be people at the university that do not like Catholics or anything to do with Catholics; my fellow CSA members expressed unease about the possibility that a few students who feel this way might come into our facility.
3. This leads to the ultimate question of security. As a Catholic student, I feel secure whenever I enter the building. It’s my home away from home. I can leave my laptop or any other valuables in the student lounge and know that it won’t be stolen because everyone in the building is there for one purpose; everyone in the building has a faith in common. I can trust anyone who walks through those doors even if I don’t know them, because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. But is that trust still there if we open it up to the university? Can I trust that we have the same fundamental faith? I don’t know. And I’m sure non-Catholic students have concerns about being taught at the Newman Center as well.
No decision has been made, so this might not happen. I also won’t cover the Newman Center because I am too close to the center and it would be a conflict of interest, but I think it’s a conversation that should include all sides.