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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Religious groups feel neglected

culture@dailylobo.com

Only eight of the 30 religious student organizations on campus are not a branch of Christianity, and not everyone agrees whether UNM does enough to support these groups.

Joseph Ament, a senior business administration major, said he has faced challenges being part of a minority religion at a public university. Ament is president of the Soka Gakkai International Buddhist Club,

“As far as I know, we are still the only Buddhist club at UNM,” he said. “It’s hard reaching out to people, especially in a predominantly Christian (area).”

Ament, who has been the club’s president for four years, said he does not believe UNM has done all it can to accommodate minority religious groups.

“I don’t think UNM really does anything to support us, aside from allowing us to use their facilities and things like that,” he said. “I don’t think they do anything to help us to make us more known.”

UNM provides a limited amount of money to chartered student organizations and provides free space in which those groups may meet.

Rehab Kassem, a senior biochemistry major, said she felt UNM has been supportive of minority religions on campus. Kassem said most of her professors work with her, especially when it comes to holidays that are not recognized by the University.

“Holidays are the hard part; sometimes you have an exam on a holiday,” she said. “It’s like a Christian having an exam on Christmas.”

Kassem is a member of the Muslim Student Association, which has more than 60 members. She said the group has expanded through the use of social media, an email list and word of mouth to keep students informed.

“I would always go to the mosque, and people who were part of the MSA would go to the mosque and would tell me about it,” she said. “I was in the community and I was looking for ways that I could participate.”

UNM does not have an interfaith office to support religious services, but creating such an office would be easy, beneficial and not at all costly, according to the Dean of Students Tomas Aguirre.

“I don’t think we are obligated under any circumstances as an institution to provide worship space to any religious group because of the separation between the church and state, but what we are required to do is be inclusive and to recognize all faiths,” he said.

Ament said he would be happy to have help from an interfaith office on campus.

“We don’t have the membership and availability to do the kind of outreach they do. I don’t know if there is anything that UNM could do differently, and I think that that is one of the challenges we face as a religious organization,” he said.