Memorial Union Chapel makes changes to accommodate all


Iowa State Daily

The empty Memorial Union Chapel creates a place of worship and thought.

Alayna Flor

Many people voiced concerns about the Memorial Union Chapel’s Christian-based theme, but now there is more breathing room for students.

“It has been an issue ever since it became university property,” said Brian Phillips, president of the Memorial Union Board of Directors and graduate student in political science. “It is not necessarily predominately aimed toward one religion or another, which was an issue in past.”

With a new layout and more floor space, the chapel has become an area for multiple religions and groups to go to for quiet study or worship time.

Kevin Zimmerman, graduate assistant in human development and family studies, began a petition in the fall of 2009 to change the chapel into a more neutral place for all students to go. This led to the creation of the Interfaith Council.

“A diverse group of students formed in response to discussions about the chapel,” Zimmerman said.

“What to call the space has been a point of controversy,” Zimmerman said. “If the room is truly considered a reflection space, I would encourage the MU administrators to work toward changing the sign outside from saying ‘chapel.'”

A curtain has been put in place to cover the cross on the wall when necessary, and the largest pew has been removed to create more space. The center focus for the room has been changed as well, making it a more welcoming space for students.

“Muslims have expressed the need for daily prayer because it is a quiet and peaceful space to go. Now there is more floor space to accommodate their needs, and also be a neutral space for a lot of other groups,” Phillips said.

The chapel was built in 1955 as a place for Christian worship. The architecture, cross and pews hadn’t changed much since then, until these past few years when ISU students and the Ames community alike voiced opinions.

“I think that maintaining the chapel in the MU as it perpetuates Christian hegemony and privilege at what is supposed to be a secular institution, violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and is discriminatory,” Zimmerman said.

The controversy involved with this space has been discussion for years, but there was hesitation to make the change.

“Such reluctance in entirely eliminating it took a different road to balance original intention of architecture and to better serve the needs for the students,” Phillips said. “But now it still has its original character but is a more neutral space.”

Another issue now fixed is the inaccessibility of the chapel for those in wheelchairs.

“The Memorial Union put in a ramp that passes with the American Disabilities Act compliance and the chapel is now accessible for all students no matter mobility,” Phillips said.

The chapel is open for all students 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday; and it is closed Saturday and Sunday. Students can take any concerns to the Memorial Union Board of Directors.

“We are working toward positive and pragmatic progress with the chapel. I am really happy those conversations have happened and that this will be a place for all students to go,” Phillips said.

“There is always a lot of room for further discussion on how to make the best use of space to meet the needs to the student community. By working with the Interfaith Council, it has helped balance the space and needs for student organizations that are represented on that council.”