Renovations to Smith Hall could make OCU a regional leader in interfaith cooperation.
The university’s Strategic Planning Committee approved a proposal in August to redevelop Smith Hall into interfaith student housing. If the university secures fundraising commitments for the project this semester, students could move into Smith in 2017, said Marty O’Gwynn, vice president for university advancement and external relations.
“I believe we have a very unique opportunity at OCU because we have been a great model thanks to our United Methodist principles and the fact that we have a diverse campus community that is stronger now than ever before,” O’Gwynn said. “We are a place that, if any place in Oklahoma was going to focus on an interfaith project, we were the right climate and setting to do that.”
The idea for the interfaith dorm stemmed from a project proposed by Jennifer Long, former director of religious life, said the Rev. Dr. Charles Neff, vice president for university-church relations.
Long proposed a standalone residential Wesley Center to create an intentional Christian community. But as talks continued with members of administration, the conversation shifted.
“The question was asked, as a true reflection of OCU as an interfaith community, what would it look like to be an interfaith dorm,” Neff said.
During the prioritization process officials recognized the need to fill the empty dormitory, which was closed last fall because of low enrollment. Prioritization allowed university officials to evaluate how the university was spending its money.
Neff researched other universities with interfaith student housing to propose the plan to the university.
Dr. Imad Enchassi, chairman of Islamic studies, is working with university-church relations and advancement on the Smith renovations.
“The more you know somebody on a personal level the more this imaginary wall between you and that person will collapse,” Enchassi said. “What I really want to see is where someone of a different faith is not ‘the other,’ but rather we are part of this human family that God almighty has created.”
One aspect of the interfaith dorm is intentional programming to foster interfaith dialogue. This programming could include fireside chats and weekly worship services reflecting the various religious backgrounds of residents.
Enchassi said he wants there to be some kind of class credit for those living in the dorm.
Enchassi compared the experience to a service-learning project.
The renovated Smith Hall could house up to 48 students, according to the proposal. Renovations include expanding the residential bathrooms and converting the first floor into a student lounge and a separate interfaith meeting room.
O’Gwynn estimates the renovations could cost $1.9 million. University officials want the donors for the interfaith dorm to reflect a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds. O’Gwynn could not comment on specific donors officials are contacting about the interfaith project.
Mason Maidt, music business senior, said he does not think an intentional interfaith dorm is necessary because OCU is already an interfaith environment.
“While I’m not directly involved with OCU’s religious life, I feel like the campus itself lends itself to an interfaith approach as is and, truthfully, I don’t see the purpose in an interfaith dorm because all of our dorms are interfaith dorms,” Maidt said.
Sarah Kelly, political science sophomore, said an interfaith dorm would be a good opportunity.
“People would be able to see the lives of their friends and fellow students in a way that a lot of times is looked past,” Kelly said. “You would be able to interact with them in a different manner than you would normally associate with them just because faith is often put behind closed doors, but it doesn’t need to be that way.”
Students interested in living in the interfaith dorm should watch for emails on the topic.
“We can be at the front edge for our region in having something that we would hope other schools would see the value in creating,” O’Gwynn said.