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Jorge Solis, a resident adviser at Troy University, cleans up his room in the Newman Center, a faith-based dormitory at the Alabama school. Troy has opened something thatХs a rarity for a public university in the United States: a dorm community where daily Bible studies are common and beer drinking strictly is forbidden.
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Jorge Solis, a resident adviser at Troy University, cleans up his room in the Newman Center, a faith-based dormitory at the Alabama school. Troy has opened something thatХs a rarity for a public university in the United States: a dorm community where daily Bible studies are common and beer drinking strictly is forbidden.

Faith-based dorm is rarity at public university

By Jay Reeves

The Associated Press

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TROY, Ala. – Tucked in rural southeastern Alabama, Troy University has opened something that’s a rarity for a public college in the United States: A faith-based dorm community where daily Bible studies are common and beer drinking strictly is forbidden.

Residents live by rules that include a ban on alcohol, mandatory community service and a minimum grade-point average.

In one lobby, a wall is covered with fliers inviting students to Christian worship services and a daily prayer session. Slips of paper with Bible verses sit on the welcome desk.

Jorge Solis said he’s gotten used to walking past fellow students sitting in common areas reading Bibles or discussing how faith intersects with life.

“I love seeing that,” said Solis, a Catholic and sophomore resident adviser from Pell City, Ala., who keeps a Bible on his desk. “Many people are here to minister to others.”

While private universities with religious affiliation often impose rules in accordance with a faith, such living arrangements are rare at public universities, renewing a frequent debate about the separation of church and state.

Indeed, the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation has complained the dorms are unconstitutional since religion is at their core. However, there have been few complaints aside from a column in the student newspaper and a handful of social media posts. No protests have been held on campus, which has had a nondenominational religious chapel for years.

University officials defend the arrangement as being more about promoting values and accommodating faithful students than proselytization. The officials said a survey found that 75 percent of Troy students said faith was important to their college experience.

The requirements are tough, but apparently also appealing to many students; the community, with room for 376 students in two new brick buildings, is almost full. The dorms are open to all students, but would-be residents must apply and submit recommendations from a minister, school counselor or community leader. The dorms are coed, with men and women on alternating floors.

Just up a hill from fraternity row, the dorms’ official name is the Newman Center. The community is part of a national network of Catholic student ministries named for Cardinal John Henry Newman, the namesake of a foundation that promotes Catholic ministries on college campuses.

Newman Centers are at many public universities and typically operate as campus ministries, but the Troy complex is “pretty unusual” for its size and housing accommodations, said the Rev. Den Irwin, the Catholic priest who serves the campus and the parish in the city of Troy.

“We can laugh, we can joke, we can eat, but we can also pray and learn,” he said.

The university is leasing the land for the faith-based dorms to the nonprofit Troy University Foundation, a private fundraising arm that constructed the buildings for almost $12 million. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mobile, Ala., in turn, is leasing a section of one dorm that includes an activity room, a small kitchen and a room that will become a 24-hour-a-day chapel. The entire complex is referred to as the Newman Center.

While the dorm is part of a Roman Catholic campus ministry, residents said the community is overwhelmingly Protestant, as are Alabama and the rest of the Deep South. Applicants to live in the dorms are not required to state a religious preference, and residents said there is a smattering of others faith represented in the community, including Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism.

Shanshan Duan, 24, grew up in a Buddhist family in southwest China. She is living in the faith community during her first year in a graduate English program at Troy. She said she is enjoying learning about American culture and faiths, and hasn’t felt pressured to become a Christian.

“It’s not been a problem,” said Duan.

Kelsey Burgans, the community director, said the biggest complaints so far have been about typical college stuff, not religious strong-arming or rules violations.

“We have had people come in and say, ‘My roommate is so messy,’” he said.

Comments

Not a Public University

Despite a lack of complaints, the dorm is probably illegal. Fair housing laws say you can't discriminate based on race, national origin or religion. A "sports dorm' is fine, because that is not a protected class, but excluding non-religious students (either explicitly or implicitly) is just not right. If they want to be isolated in their own dorm, they should go to a private, religious university. A public school and its housing should be open to all.

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