A group of about 30 students, faculty and Pullman community members joined together on Tuesday for an Under the Big Tent debate to discuss whether public universities should fund students’ spiritual development.
The debate, held at the Compton Union Building Lair at noon, was titled “Spirituality: A Private matter at a Public University” and featured four panelists who discussed their views on spirituality then answered audience questions.
Franci Taylor, a retention counselor at the Native American Student Center, started off the debate by explaining how she uses spirituality as a way to maintain an inner peace. She said spirituality is not a quick fix, rather, it is a skill that is learned. As such, she said spiritual development belongs in universities.
“Spirituality is how you walk your road,” she said.“(It is) a way of maintaining balance, being part of a community.”
Craig Wheeler, another panelist, had an opposing view to Taylor’s. Wheeler, who is a member of the Secular Cougs student group, said there is a fine line between spirituality and religion. He said he is not against students exploring their own spirituality, but it should be done on their own time and with their own resources.
“We already have places to discuss spirituality,” Wheeler said. “Putting government funding into spirituality is going against separation of church and state.”
Interfaith House Director Rob Snyder said this debate surfaced because deans at universities around the U.S. have begun to hear directly from students that they want spirituality to be included in wellbeing preparation in college. He said spiritual development is very important at universities because academia is about figuring out who we are, and spirituality is a part of that.
Snyder identified himself as Christian but acknowledged the wisdom in other traditions. He said spirituality is about addressing core values such as finding meaning in life, improving oneself and relating to different types of people.
Brad Stewart, wellbeing coordinator and the University Recreation Center, said he sees spirituality as being bigger than religion because it can be different for every person. He said research has linked spirituality to students getting better grades, having a lesser chance of depression and high retention rates.
“Institutions have a duty to support students in all aspects of well-being,” Stewart said.
Sophomore finance major Joshua Anderson said he attended the debate because he likes to hear other peoples’ opinions on religion since he feels the topic is a taboo in American society. He said he does not agree with public universities funding students’ spiritual development.
“Everyone has a say in their beliefs; everyone has a say in how they want to live their life,” Anderson said. “(But) I don’t think we should fund any kind of student organizations because I think people would rather pay $100 less in tuition.”