K-State home to variety of people with diverse religious, cultural backgrounds

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Members of the Islamic Center of Manhattan gather outside the mosque after Friday prayer. (Archive photo by Missy Calvert | Collegian Media Group)

Kansas State is home to people of different faiths who have unique experiences with their religion on campus. Many people in the K-State community are working hard to create a safe and welcoming space. However, some say K-State still has a long journey to foster a community where everyone is welcome.

Beverley Earles is the associate director of international planning and analysis and chair of the President’s Committee on Religious, Spiritual and Nonreligious Diversity. She said she has been working hard to make the university a more inclusive place, primarily through her work as chair of the committee.

“We have always been a resource for students, staff, faculty and admin who would like support of one kind or another having to do with religious issues in the broadest sense,” Earles said.

(Infographic by Marshall Sunner | Collegian Media Group)
(Infographic by Marshall Sunner | Collegian Media Group)

Elena Aronson, second-year doctoral student in public health nutrition and a committee member, said she agreed with Earles, saying the committee works on creating safe spaces for people of different religions.

“We work on creating safe spaces for people to worship as they want,” Aronson said. “We put on events to create awareness of different religions, and we now have a calendar that has all the holidays that people may be celebrating hopefully, used as a reference by people on campus.”

Aronson said it is essential to recognize there are people from all walks of life at K-State.

“Not everyone on campus practices the same religion; not everyone on campus comes from the same places,” Aronson said. “People come from all places and all religions, and we can learn so much.”

Fadia Husseini, senior in medical microbiology, practices Islam. Husseini said it is important to learn about religions other than the one you practice to create a more accepting and inclusive environment.

“[A lot] of people in the Midwest are not educated on [Islam] or the culture, so it is frustrating when people use the incorrect terminology,” Husseini said.

Josh Kreisler, junior in agricultural economics, said when his classmates tell him he is the first Jewish person they have ever met, it can create pressure for him.

“I feel a little pressure in that sense because there are always people from small towns in Kansas that have never met someone like me, so I am the picture of their entire perception of Jewish people,” Kreisler said. “I have encountered some preconceived notions of how someone might think you are, and breaking that barrier can be challenging sometimes.”

Kreisler said he enjoys K-State, but has found it challenging not having a larger Jewish community.

“I love it here, but there is definitely something missing, especially with my religion and faith,” Kreisler said.

Some students have more resources in Manhattan to support them in their religious, spiritual or nonreligious journey. Alec Augustine, senior in journalism and mass communications, practices Catholicism and said his church provides him with many resources.

“Being Catholic is so important to me that I do not know what I would do without it,” Augustine said. “[At St. Isidore’s] we are able to go to Mass every day at 9:09 p.m., and they have confessions beforehand, so they offer a lot of resources.”

Faith journeys can enter a challenging phase when coming to college for several reasons. Aronson said issues stem from more than just being surrounded by a large or small faith crowd.

“You need to figure out how religious you want to be, what that means to you, and that is part of becoming an adult and forging your own path,” Aronson said.

From speaking to a teacher, attending a bible study or hosting a meal, students find creative ways to connect.

“The closest thing I have to a [Muslim community] at K-State is that my Arabic teacher is Muslim, so we always talk to each other about that,” Husseini said. “I will send her prayers, and she will send me prayers. I will go to class early and talk to her on Zoom, so it is like having another home here without being at home.”

Augustine attends men’s bible study through his church, which has allowed him to grow with others in the area.

“I am involved in a bible study at St. Isidore’s, and it has been great,” Augustine said. “It is a bunch of guys, and a lot of us come from different places, but we are all able to come together, read scripture from one another and learn from each other. I think that has been impactful for me to be able to see what other people are dealing with and how we can grow together.”

Kreisler enjoys engaging in a Jewish tradition called Shabbat.

“I enjoy going to Shabbat dinner with everyone around the table in a home-style setting, sharing about your day and singing some prayers or religious songs together,” Kreisler said.

Another aspect of the President’s Committee on Religious, Spiritual and Nonreligious Diversity is creating space for nonreligious students. There is a growing number of atheist and agnostic students at K-State.

“You do not have to believe in God to be kind and decent,” Earles said. “Many Western countries are not affiliated with religion at all and are very ethical, and a lot have lower crime rates.”

Earles said a great way to learn about others’ belief systems is first to find common ground. Aronson made a similar point.

“While our beliefs may look very different, we all want to be respected and acknowledged,” Aronson said. “It is great not to push people in their own corners but rather to celebrate each other.”

Kreisler thinks it is important to recognize the similarities and talk about the differences in people’s faiths.

“We are all people,” Kreisler said. “There are a lot more similarities than there are differences. So I think being willing to be open and talk about those differences and recognize those similarities is super important.”

The committee is open to all students, faculty and staff.

“I would like the whole community to know that we are a valuable resource that they can come to with suggestions, problems or anything else that matters,” Earles said.

Editors Note: This article reflects the experiences and thoughts of the students and staff interviewed. It does not reflect the views or experiences of everyone in the same religion’s time at K-State.

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Hi! My name is Eden Brockman, and I am a junior studying journalism and mass communications with focuses in entrepreneurship, film studies and leadership studies. I am a first-generation K-Stater from Overland Park, Kansas, and I write for the news and culture desk. Beyond the Collegian, I am the vice president of Wildcat Watch, where I create video content for the K-State community. I am also the co-host for the Afternoon Show at Wildcat 91.9 FM from 4:00-6:00 p.m. on weekdays. I love animals, good concerts and Grand Teton National Park!