A corner inside the library. An empty classroom. A low-traffic stairwell.
Shegufta Huma said she and other Muslim students at Kansas University have had to use those and whatever other spaces they can find for the 10- to 15-minute prayer sessions they pause for multiple times a day.
“KU never had any type of space that was specifically designed or allotted for people on campus to meditate or pray, whether that’s students, faculty or staff,” Huma said.
That will change starting this fall.
Alcove A, a small conference room in the Kansas Union, will be reserved as a non-denominational “reflection room” for Muslim and any other KU students, faculty or staff to pray or meditate while on campus.
“The creation of this space will fill a great need on campus, allowing students to reflect, meditate and pray in a proper and peaceful location,” incoming Student Body Vice President Zach George said in a Student Senate statement announcing the room. “It is a small but important step toward making the University of Kansas a safer, more inclusive and diverse college community.”
George said establishing the room was a yearlong process involving the Student Senate, KU Office of Diversity and Equity, KU Memorial Unions, KU employees and Huma, who led the effort.
The alcove is envisioned as a temporary home for the reflection room until a permanent one can be established, said Nate Thomas, KU vice provost for diversity and equity.
"I’m really proud of the fact that students, faculty and staff all across campus were so united in this effort and offered their ideas and perspectives, as well as their support," Thomas said, in an email. "We’ll continue the process to create a permanent reflection room, and possibly more than one, for people to observe their beliefs."
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Huma, a rising junior from Wichita, is a student senator and served last year as president of KU’s Muslim Student Association.
She said many universities across the country, including others in Kansas, already have such a room.
KU’s Danforth Chapel, in the center of campus, is designated as nondenominational and is open to anyone for meditation and prayer. However, the chapel's days and hours are limited, and Huma said she finds it less welcoming for non-Christians.
“I don’t necessarily see that as a space that would be a safe space — as a person of a different faith, or perhaps no faith — to go inside and meditate,” Huma said.
Other spaces near campus welcome students to reflect or pray throughout the day, including the Islamic Center of Lawrence and Chabad at KU on 19th Street and the ECM on Oread Avenue.
But Huma said having the reflection room on campus proper is not only more convenient but important to students, on principle.
“It just really shows a commitment to integrating them into the larger Jayhawk community,” she said, “instead of relegating them to a closet or stairwell or some other non-campus area.”
Huma said she appreciated the KU administration and Memorial Union agreeing to open up the alcove, especially since conference rooms on campus are in high demand — which she cited as one of the biggest obstacles to the effort over the past year.
Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel of Chabad said Jewish Center representatives participated in focus groups for the reflection room and agreed it should be accessible and convenient, as well as truly neutral and non-denominational.
“College students have a very, very hectic life with so much pulling them in so many different directions,” Tiechtel said. “I think it’s a beautiful idea to create a space on campus where, amidst the craziness of college life, the students can simply reflect."
The following rules apply to the Reflection Room, according to KU Student Senate:
Use of this space requires tolerance for all faiths, spiritual beliefs and practices. To make the reflection room available to the campus community, the following requirements apply:
• No sleeping.
• Only KU students, faculty, staff and accompanied guests are permitted.
• No candles, incense burning or other smoke, fragrance or flame is allowed.
• The space is open to all individuals at all times unless specifically reserved for Diversity and Equity Office use.
• Noise, conversation and music are prohibited and are to be kept to the strictest minimum.
• Use is restricted to purposes of personal reflection, meditation or prayer.