It's only early September but the college year already is in full stride. Classes have started, football games have been played and families have assisted in the moving of their children into campus housing. But in some very refreshing cases, these campus dorms aren't your parent's dorms. They're not even your older siblings' dorms. Amazingly, college administrations, who have wrought not only co-ed dorms, but co-ed floors and unisex bathrooms and showers, faith-antangonistic speech codes, intrusions into recognized student-run Christian, conservative and values-oriented clubs; and a general hostility to anything that doesn't advance a perverse political correctness, are allowing — even encouraging — faith-based dorms.
While not uncommon at Catholic, Christian and private colleges, public universities have partnered with private developers in recent years to accommodate these lifestyle residences, which also help alleviate housing shortages, according to the Wall Street Journal. Troy University (Alabama), Florida Institute of Technology, Texas A&M University-Kingsville and the University of Nebraska are among the colleges that feature the housing facilities, while Purdue University is considering one.
Leading the building boom, one surely not appreciated by the Secular Left, is the Newman Student Housing Fund, a private, Catholic development company, which owns the residence halls at Florida Tech and Texas A&M. It names its dorms Newman Centers after the 19th century British Cardinal John Henry Newman who encouraged the presence of Catholic organizations at secular academies. It plans to build one or two more a year throughout the country because demand is strong, with its dorms nearly or completely full, and other colleges making available a certain floor of an existing dorm. (The granddaddy of all such dorms is the Newman Center at the University of Illinois, which was established in 1926.)
All this seems to fly in the face of recent polling that suggests 18-29 year-olds are less religious than previous generations of young people, not to mention considerably less so than their parents and grandparents. But faith-based dorms, which include chapels and communal areas for Bible study, come with standards determined by the developer and/or the university, to which the residents must agree, such as maintaining a certain grade point average, abstaining from alcohol in the building and engaging in community service. The dorms welcome students of any faith, or even the faithless. As one self-described "nontheist" said, the Christian students were welcoming and easy to get along with.
Troy University Chancellor Jack Hawkins Jr., whose Newman Center opened this semester, wrote on the university's website:
The Newman Center project is an important step forward for Troy University, as more than 80 percent of our students have revealed through surveys that religious spirituality plays an important role in their lives. I believe our obligation to our students in this regard can be summed up in the words of our university motto, which dates back to our founding in 1887: "Educate the mind to think, the heart to feel and the body to act."
The impetus for much of the surge in Newman Centers is the influence of young campus chaplains influenced by Pope John Paul II's outreach to youth. According the Wall Street Journal article, the . . .
faith-based dorms offer a welcoming environment for such exploration, through activities like group discussions and retreats. They stress that participation is optional and the goal isn't to convert people to a particular belief.
Though the ministry programs typically are run by the Catholic church, students with other religious affiliations are free to participate in the events, and one of the goals is to spur interfaith dialogue. The resident population is overwhelmingly Christian, but also includes Jews, Muslims and others at some schools.
Of course this has not set well with the Freedom of Religion Foundation, which has written some of these colleges and appears poised to launch legal action. Good luck. The development deals are carefully structured so that the schools do not own the buildings, which provide desperately needed living space on campuses with burgeoning enrollments. They also save the institutions a thick wad of cash since construction and operating costs are privately funded, while the students' costs run about the same as the standard issue dorm.
College life has its own cycles, defined by certain rituals and traditions. A profoundly new one may help reshape campus living.
The new Newman Center at Troy University is a faith-based dorm open to students of all faiths at the Alabama school. Although students already are singing its praises and university officials like the cost-savings it provides, an atheist group is already threatening legal action. But faith-based dorms are popping up all over the country and appear to be here to stay. (Photo: Salt Lake City Deseret News)