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OPINION: The Interfaith Space’s removal is a step backwards for SG

This article expresses the views of its author(s), separate from those of this publication. Readers are encouraged to comment or submit a Letter to the Editor to share their opinions. Email [email protected] to submit a letter.

Now that I’m back in the full swing of things post-summer, I want to take some time to share my thoughts on the recent removal of the Interfaith Prayer and Reflection Space.

Back in March, the student-body presidential ticket of President John Grosso and Vice President Emily Sullivan ran uncontested, succeeding the previous Rodefer-Murray administration. After their election, the new Grosso-Sullivan administration listed two goals: to improve SG’s relationship with other UNF organizations and to address the university’s high transfer rates.

Getting rid of the Interfaith Prayer and Reflection Space accomplishes neither goal.

The “Interfaith Space,” as it was called, was a repurposed gray lounge in the West building of the Student Union that catered to students’ religious and non-religious needs. The space was created after it became apparent that there was a need for a larger room than the Interfaith Center’s reflection room, which has a maximum capacity of four individuals. 

The Reflection Room in the University of North Florida’s Interfaith Center can hold up to four people at once. (Carter Mudgett/Spinnaker)

The Interfaith Prayer and Reflection Space was created when the Rodefer-Murray administration formed an agreement, called a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), with the Interfaith Center. In the MOU, SG would be responsible for providing funds to the Interfaith Center, which was responsible for promoting the space to students and the space’s general maintenance. Both parties would meet yearly to assess the need for the room.    

The larger space proved popular, used over 550 times by the student body. Almost 80 students used the room more than once, establishing a consistent demand for the venue. Students hailed the space for being able to provide them with a private, secure location to pray in.

Unfortunately, the Grosso-Sullivan administration chose not to renew the MOU between SG and the Interfaith Center which created the space. The Interfaith Prayer and Reflection Space was converted back into a gray lounge in July. In an internal email to SG, Grosso wrote that the decision not to renew resulted from the administration’s efforts to create “more common spaces for students to gather.”

In the same email, Grosso also said that the decision not to renew was due to “noncompliance with stipulations that were outlined in the memorandum,” claiming that only $360 of the $5,000 yearly budget afforded to the Interfaith Center was being allocated towards the space.

There are roughly 20 different religious clubs and organizations that operate in or around the campus community. Most of these groups have meetings and services on campus, either in empty classrooms or Student Union ballrooms. Having been a part of a few of these clubs in the past, an ample, dedicated interfaith space would have a very high demand among our student body.

Inside the Student Union Interfaith Space, there were various religious items for use. (Carter Mudgett/Spinnaker)

Students have a right to practice the religion (or lack thereof) of their choice on campus, and it should be a right that is supported and encouraged by our Student Government. While I understand that the renewal of the MOU was partially rejected due to the Interfaith Center’s noncompliance, wanting more common spaces doesn’t seem like a good reason to me.

UNF already has plenty of spaces for students to gather: the Green; the library and the adjacent SG Lounge; the amphitheater; the rest of the Student Union (with the Boathouse, game room, LGBTQ Center, food court and all the other lounges. Not to mention its proposed expansion in the years to come) to mention a few. 

Does repurposing one gray lounge put that big of a dent in your plans?

There is reason for optimism, however. Even though the Interfaith space was not renewed, SG and the Interfaith Center have been discussing opening a new (or multiple) Interfaith Prayer and Reflection Space(s) for the fall semester. 

The ordeal is disappointing, but SG and the Interfaith Center will come to another agreement. Just make it last this time.

___

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About the Contributors
Ethan Leckie
Ethan Leckie, Enterprise Editor
A Pad Thai enthusiast, NASCAR follower, and Jon Bois fanboy, Ethan Leckie is a third-year journalism major at the University of North Florida, minoring in international studies. He first began his involvement with Spinnaker as a volunteer reporter in the fall of 2021 and currently holds the position of Enterprise Editor. Ethan has always had a passion for writing and hopes to work for a newspaper one day. He enjoys watching YouTube, cooking, and visiting restaurants in his free time. If you see him on campus, ask him about his pieces - he loves to talk about them!
Justin Nedrow
Justin Nedrow, Photographer
Justin Nedrow is a Jacksonville-based photographer who started volunteering for Spinnaker in 2020 and recently graduated in spring 2023 with a degree in sports management from the University of North Florida. Taking hundreds, if not thousands, of photos, Justin has helped Spinnaker reporters cover everything from sports games, protests, ordinary campus life and more. Photography is a passion project for Justin, one he started to meet new people and express himself without words.

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