College to hire full-time Muslim chaplain

MSU town hall brings students, alums together in search for chaplain

Devika Goel

The Muslim Students Union (MSU) organized a town hall on Saturday, bringing students, alums, and staff members together to discuss how the College community benefits from having a Muslim chaplain. The town hall also focused attention on the struggles of the Muslim community in the absence of a chaplain since Imam Sharif Rosen’s departure from the College.

The MSU initially organized the town hall to advocate for the employment of a full-time Muslim chaplain. The day before the town hall, however, the College informed the MSU that it had agreed to hire the new chaplain as a full-time position, a decision that came after multiple meetings between the MSU leadership and College administrators. Rosen had held the Muslim chaplaincy as a part-time position, splitting his time between the Chaplains’ Office and the Center for Learning in Action (CLiA); the other chaplaincy positions were all full-time.

“The leadership of the Muslim Student Union made a very strong case for how the needs of Muslim students — and students as a whole — would be more adequately served by a Muslim Chaplain with a 1.0 [full-time equivalent],” Dean of the College Marlene Sandstrom wrote in an email to the Record.

Following the announcement, the leadership of MSU focused the town hall on issues the College’s Muslim community had faced without a full-time chaplain and what Muslim students were now hoping to see in one.

Co-Chair of MSU Mohammad Faizaan ’23 said that the increase in the Muslim population on campus means it is crucial for the community to have a full-time Muslim chaplain to turn to. “[At the town hall] students did share instances where there was Islamophobia or there were microaggressions,” he said. “We can’t hold daily prayers like other schools. It’s difficult to coordinate the weekly Jum’ah prayer… We need a lot of programming to go to [the mosque in] Albany or to participate in Qu’ran study groups.”

For Assistant Vice President for Campus Engagement and the College’s first Muslim chaplain Imam Bilal Ansari, the town hall proved instrumental in bringing in the perspectives of Muslim alums. “We had alumni from ’02 … and all over the world at the town hall. It was important to hear their wisdom about this position — how the needs of the current campus community should be carefully and thought- fully considered in this position description,” Ansari wrote in an email to the Record. Ansari has also been working with Muslim alums to build a Muslim Alumni Association in collaboration with Alumni Relations. The association would aim to acquire funds to support Muslim life on campus.

Faizaan said the town hall was an important step in providing a space for students, faculty, staff, and alums to share their experiences and expectations. “I think the town hall was great at collecting those voices, and realizing alumni really do care about this issue. Students very much do care about this issue,” he said. “The circle of Muslim alumni might not be as big as the circle of alumni of other faiths, but there’s a genuine concern and care within the Muslim faith alumni.”

Faizaan added that a growing Muslim population both at Williams and in the Berkshires necessitates the presence of a Muslim chaplain. “We also learned that this is a chaplain that is of big value to the Muslim community especially — as Paula Consolini [director of CLiA] mentioned — the demographics of the Berkshire County are going to change as Afghan residents are making their way here,” he said.

Faizaan said the success of the MSU’s advocacy made the Muslim community feel heard.

“Especially when it comes to ideas of identity and faith … it made us feel welcomed at a campus which does still exhibit Islamophobia and microaggressions and macroaggressions [against the Muslim community],” he said.

The search for a new Muslim chaplain will begin soon and will be chaired by Chaplain to the College Reverend Valerie Bailey Fischer. “She will put together a committee consisting of faculty, staff and students,” Sandstrom wrote. “The first task will be to develop the position description and job posting. We expect the committee to be pulled together over the course of this month.”

During this period, Assistant Director of Intergroup Relations and Inclusive Programming at the Davis Center Aseel Abulhab ’15 will serve as an interim Muslim Program Coordinator and support the Muslim community on campus.