Another version originally published in The Tiger
DISCLAIMER: Stories are not endorsements. I try to report as fairly as possible.
Many public universities have chapels, and many of them are extremely old- if not the oldest building on the campus. Auburn University’s chapel was built in 1851 and is the oldest building in Auburn proper. So it’s a testament to the uniqueness of Clemson when one realizes that the University, chapel-less, will one day have one of the newest chapels in the nation with the future Student Memorial Chapel & Garden. Perhaps the most monumental thing about this project is the monetary goal— around $5.6 million dollars, mainly raised by student-activities. That’s a whole lot of bake sales.
The idea of a Clemson chapel was first born in 1996, when alumnus Ward Buzzell proposed the concept of a place for students to reflect and pray, regardless of spiritual denomination. As the years passed and Clemson was affected each year by student deaths, the idea of a memorial began to take concrete form. The official Clemson webpage for the Student Memorial Chapel describes it as, “a proposed on-campus building where students of all faiths can come to pray, meditate and remember students who have passed away before their expected graduation date”.
The project is almost entirely student run, with the help of the faculty advisor Dr. Peter Cohen. Dr. Cohen, senior lecturer in the Department of Religion, said, “I have been truly moved to see how the committee members over the past number of years have consistently shown their passion toward the project and their fellow fallen Tigers”. The fundraising element of the project is well underway, and while the process is a slow one for such a huge amount of money, it’s keeping active with a 15-student committee that encourages community support and fundraising events. The group is holding the Clemson Student Memorial 5K on November 9th. The $25 entry fee will go towards the project.
Students’ thoughts on the chapel are mixed. Some are looking forward to it, like senior Greg Howard: “I think it’s a great idea for students to come and learn about other faiths from people their own age and to share and grow in their own faith”.
However, Joshua Rooks, a current senior, was unsure about the chapel. “I’m just not a fan of the idea. We’re not a religiously founded school, so we should be making sure to avoid including religion as something landmark in our campus.”
Bethany Ledford, the president of the Secular Student Alliance, had a more varied opinion: “Personally, I am not opposed to the idea of building a memorial for students who have passed away before their graduation date. That is a beautiful concept that I support 100%. However, the religious connotations of building a ‘chapel’ on campus make me uncomfortable, regardless if the phrases ‘nondenominational’ or ‘all faiths’ are attached to it.”
Clemson’s status as a public university seems to be the focal point of opposition for those opposed to the project, despite other public universities having chapels. Pierre Tong, a former student, explained that, “as long as all religious/spiritual groups have a fair share in using the facility then I don’t see a problem despite Clemson’s status as a public university”. He also stressed that it can be a quiet place of reflection for all students, regardless of spirituality.
When I asked Matt Gabriel, the Chairman of the Clemson Student Memorial Chapel and Garden, to comment, he clarified the stance of the project: “The point of the all-faiths, nondenominational chapel is to be welcoming to everyone in the diverse Clemson Family…There will be no religious services and no scheduled gatherings, other than memorial services. Members of any religion, and even those that don’t consider themselves to be a part of any organized religion, can come benefit from this atmosphere in their own way…”
Although the Student Memorial Chapel and Garden is merely a thought as of now, it’s already starting to make an impact on campus life. You can find out more information on their website and Facebook page.