KU Student Senate forming committee to address rights for religious minorities on campus

KU Student Senate logo

The University of Kansas Student Senate is forming an ad hoc committee to explore and improve issues faced by religious minorities on campus.

The committee will be charged with, first, creating a survey to gauge students’ accommodations for religious holidays and access to reflection spaces on campus, Student Body President Stephonn Alcorn said Thursday in a letter to student senators.

“Based on survey results, the committee will present legislation to the Student Senate to enhance the quality of life and freedom of religion for religious minorities at the University of Kansas,” Alcorn said. “The committee is charged with putting forward legislation that calls for more extensive accommodations besides what is indicated in the fine print of a syllabus and to increase education of faculty members regarding accommodations and the importance of their careful consideration.”

Alcove A, on the third level of the Kansas Union, has been designated a Reflection Room for students of all faiths or no faith to pray and meditate. The room is pictured Friday, Nov. 6, 2015.

Co-chairs of the committee will be Zoya Khan, the multicultural affairs committee chair, and Chancellor Adams, on-campus senator, Alcorn said. He said other members would be announced at the Senate’s Nov. 2 meeting.

“The work … is integral to the mission we are striving towards as a governing body: to enhance the quality of KU’s educational experience for marginalized individuals and identities,” Alcorn said.

The Student Senate approved a resolution to form the committee at the body’s Oct. 19 meeting. However, the resolution that was ultimately approved was a watered-down version of the one that was initially presented that night, though they both called for creating the committee.

Alcorn actually vetoed the resolution because of those amendments, though he said he and bill authors agreed that the committee would still be created.

Stephonn Alcorn

“I believe that the amended version does not represent the same intent or purpose that the authors of the resolution had originally set forward,” Alcorn said in his letter. “…the amendments to the background of the resolution diminished the original bill language which encapsulated the classroom experiences of religious minorities at KU.”

The original version of the resolution said that KU “does not recognize major holidays celebrated by religious minorities outside of Christianity and/or other denominations that the university privileges or deems worthy over others,” that “international and local students of the university are unable to celebrate a major religious holiday without forfeiting their coursework obligations,” and that KU “does not provide the appropriate accommodation to students (including graduate students), faculty or staff observing religious holidays that are not recognized or privileged by the university.”

Regarding observance of religious holidays, according to KU spokesman Andy Hyland, the University Senate Rules and Regulations currently states:

“In cases where part of a class grade is based on attendance, a student shall not be penalized for absence from regularly scheduled class activities which conflict with mandated religious observances. In cases of conflicts between regularly scheduled class activities and mandated religious observances, the student is responsible for initiating discussion with the instructor to reach a mutually acceptable solution.”

There are currently four spaces on campus designated as reflection rooms for all faiths or practices, said Lisa Kring, director of building services for the KU Memorial Unions.

In addition to Danforth Chapel, a reflection room was designated in fall 2015 in Alcove A on level 3 of the Kansas Memorial Union.

The Office of Diversity and Equity has since worked with other university departments to designate reflection rooms at 320L Anschutz and on level 5 of Watson Library, Kring said. The new Central District student union, currently under construction also is slated to have a reflection room.