College administrators are currently evaluating the proposal by the Muslim Student Union (MSU) for a Muslim chaplain. As approving the proposal would mean creating an entirely new full-time position, the process is a long one that requires input from Dean Sarah Bolton, Provost Bill Lenhart, President Adam Falk and other senior administrators. No definite date for a final decision has been given to the MSU.
“I’ve seen the proposal in a collection of letters from a variety of student groups,” Bolton said. “Going into budget season, we’re trying to evaluate what we can do.”
Although the College currently has a Muslim advisor, Parvin Hajizadeh, the MSU proposal described her role as mostly administrative.
“Parvin has been a superb caregiver, organizer and advocate,” College Chaplain Rick Spalding said. “What we hope to bring to the campus in a Muslim chaplain is someone with training both as a religious professional and as a chaplain, teacher, counselor or mentor to young adults in an intellectual community.”
Spalding explained that this religious background would be necessary to fill the MSU’s vision of what the chaplain’s duties would include. “[A] Muslim chaplain’s time on campus could coincide with inter-religious dialogues and other events in addition to regular jummah prayers on Friday and khutbah, teaching sessions, with the MSU,” he said.
According to Mustafa Saadi ’12, hiring a Muslim chaplain would be an important step toward realizing international diversity at the College. “For many MSU members, Williams is the first diverse place where they can truly engage with people of different faith traditions, lifestyles and academic teachings that would question their beliefs,” Saadi said. “Without proper spiritual guidance, these situations do not become the growth experiences that they can potentially be.”
MSU board member Yasmine Goelzer ’13 pointed out that Yale, Harvard, Brown, Georgetown, Duke, NYU, Wesleyan and Amherst have all recently appointed Muslim chaplains. Goelzer said that having a Muslim chaplain on staff is a way in which prospective international Muslim students can gauge the College’s commitment to religious diversity.
Another point that MSU leaders emphasized is the way in which a Muslim chaplain could help battle the distorted image of Islam given by today’s mainstream media and increase interfaith understanding within the College. A public figure with extensive knowledge of the Qur’an would provide a valuable and visible source of information for those of all backgrounds with questions about Islam.
“I’m very hopeful about our proposal – we’ve been laying the groundwork for it for several years,” Spalding said.
MSU leaders said the College administration must recognize the importance of approving their proposal, as it concerns equality between faiths in a historically Christian community while also constituting a move to impart a better understanding of the Islamic faith upon the next generation of leaders.