As religious groups on campus grow in size and number, some students looking for a place to pray or meditate may find themselves without a regular meeting place.
“The University is very aware that [lack of space] is a huge problem,” Yale University Chaplain Frederick Streets said Thursday.
Space problems have been on the rise for religious groups around campus, Streets said. Many Christian groups do not have a regular place to hold their meetings, he said. Lotus, one of Yale’s Buddhist societies, is the most recent group worrying about where they will be meeting next year.
“It’ll all be resolved, but it’s just frustrating that we have to resolve it,” Lotus co-founder Ravenna Michalsen GRD ’08 said.
Lotus members have been practicing their faith in Trumbull College’s art space for the past five years, Michalsen said. The group, which holds three meetings a week, first encountered space problems this year, she said.
In the past, other groups have also faced problems securing space in which to worship. Jewish students did not have a permanent place to gather before the Slifka Center was built, Streets said, and Muslim students went a long time without a place to pray on campus — a situation remedied a week before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 when the Chaplain’s Office dedicated the chapel in the Bingham Hall basement to Muslim student use.
Streets said some groups of Christian students have struggled to find a permanent spot for prayer.
“One time they’re in a college, another time they’re in a classroom,” he said.
Michalsen said she thought that Lotus had reserved a Trumbull room for their meetings, but the art students told her Lotus did not have priority.
“We’ve had a couple of run-ins with art openings which never happened before,” Michalsen said.
Trumbull student and Lotus member Christopher Ornelas ’07 said Debbie Rueb, the senior administrative assistant to Trumbull’s Master, told him that Lotus could not reserve the room.
“She told me the art space was primarily for art and any student asking for it that night for that purpose had precedent,” he said.
Rueb declined to comment.
Ornelas said he was surprised by the sudden change in Lotus’ relationship with Trumbull. Lotus has scheduled a meeting with Trumbull Master Janet Henrich for next fall to see what resolution can be reached, he said.
One possible solution for the future, Ornelas said, would be to create a room for Lotus when Trumbull is renovated in 2005-2006.
“I’m hoping with the renovation of the college, I could talk to Master Henrich as to creating a space for Lotus,” he said.
Henrich was unavailable for comment.
Michalsen said Lotus member Christen Martosella ’06 successfully led an effort to designate a room in Silliman for meditation. But Michalsen said Lotus was turned down when they asked to host a retreat there.
Martosella is a copy staffer for the Yale Daily News.
If they are not able to reach an agreement with Trumbull, Michalsen said, the group will most likely move to graduate student space. She said the move would mean that undergraduates could not access the space on their own.
Streets said the space problem stems from the use of “sacred space” for other, nonreligious events. Often, talks and lectures are held in the same rooms used for worship. Battell Chapel alone hosted over 350 events last year, he said.
Streets said the Chaplain’s Office would be happy to help Lotus find another regular meeting place.
“The Chaplain’s Office will certainly try and see if we can help,” he said.
But the Chaplain’s Office, Streets said, can only function by supporting a group’s request.
“Other than what groups negotiate on their own, all we can do is respond,” he said.
The University is working to provide more space for groups on campus, but too little space will continue to be a problem for some time, Streets said.
— Allison Stern contributed to this report.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”17706″ ]