The sounds of construction crews often serve as an alarm clock for students in Pierson and Davenport colleges this year, as workers scramble to finish the $50 million Thomas E. Golden Center by next fall. When completed, the 35,000 foot center will dwarf St. Thomas More, the Catholic chapel responsible for building it. It will rival the Joseph Slifka Center, the University’s sprawling Wall Street gathering place for Jewish students. With sizable alumni bases for fundraising, Catholic and Jewish students can count on world class facilities for services and prayer.
Students of other religions, it seems, have to lower their expectations a bit. LOTUS, Yale’s Buddhist group, has its meetings in a meditation room in the Trumbull College basement. The Muslim Students’ Association has a room set aside in the basement of Bingham Hall that, while decorated nicely, remains a windowless box.
MSA President Ahmed Makani ’07 complained that putting the space in a basement of Bingham sends the wrong message. Washing machines whir incessantly in the background, since the Muslim prayer room is right next to Bingham’s laundry room.
“It’s not a very peaceful place as far as meditation or focusing on your prayers,” Makani said.
The bathroom across the hall from the room only has one sink, a challenge since Muslims must perform ablution — a washing of their hands, feet and faces — before worshipping. On crowded days, students often just have to wait their turn.
The space may have been sufficient for Muslim students a few years ago. But now, with more Yale students practicing Islam than ever before, Friday services in the room are overcrowded.
The Chaplain’s Office has responded to the problem by offering Muslim students the use of Battell Chapel on Fridays, but Makani said many of the Islamic faith would feel uncomfortable praying in a Christian church.
For counsel on how to find suitable facilities for religious minorities, Yale should consider looking to an unlikely source. Notre Dame hardly has a reputation as a bastion of religious pluralism; 85 percent of its students are Catholic. But the university’s five-year-old meditation room is a model of how a school can celebrate religious diversity.
To first time visitors, the room may simply seem like another of Notre Dame’s chapels, complete with cross. However, the meditation room is a model of multitasking. For non-Christian students, the cross is removable, so that the space can become a place for groups or individuals of any faith to practice. And in contrast to Yale’s secluded basement prayer space, Notre Dame’s meditation room is located prominently in the same building with the school’s campus ministry, first-year study and athletic advisement offices.
Before entering the room, students pass a fountain where Muslims can perform ablution. There are towels provided and laundered by the university, as well as a rack for shoes. Once inside the room, a carpet on the floor points students in the direction of Mecca. Khalifa Al-Hosani, a graduate student and former undergraduate at Notre Dame, said he transferred to there after studying at the University of Illinois. Even though the school he switched to is Catholic, Al-Hosani said he is much more comfortable practicing his religion among the Fighting Irish.
Priscilla Wong, who runs the meditation room, says the University doesn’t see it as standing in conflict to the school’s unabashed Catholicism.
“Celebrating diversity is innately part of being Catholic,” Wong said. “We want to help them come to a deeper understanding of their faith.”