‘It was just aesthetics’: SGA advocates for carpet, shelves in medical school’s reflection spaces
A resolution to add carpet and shelves to medical school reflection spaces in an effort to be “all-inclusive” was passed by the Student Government Association Senate unanimously.
The Muslim-Inclusive Reflection Spaces Resolution authored by Vice President Hiba Rashid and Natural Science and Mathematics Sen. Chiamaka Chukwu calls for reflection spaces to have carpets and shelves to accommodate students who worship on the floor.
While planning the reflection rooms’ design, the project’s architects wanted a completely empty room to help people be mindful and not have any distractions, according to Rashid.
“In an effort to make it more inclusive, they were actually excluding Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and anyone who worships on the floor,” Rashid said. “I had a really tough time with that.”
While making the reflection spaces, those running the project wanted there to be a clear contrast between the visual look of the two rooms, Rashid said.
With one room having carpet, they wanted the other room to not, creating pushback against adding carpet to all reflection spaces.
“Honestly it was just aesthetics,” Rashid said. “They wanted it to be a completely different room. So one of them would be right next to the library and they really wanted it to be a contrast. They really wanted it to be different. The library had carpet so they didn’t want to include carpet.”
The University has emphasized that while the reflection spaces can be used for prayer, the intentions for the rooms are not specifically religious.
“The University offers student-centric lounge space throughout campus and includes such areas in its plans for new construction,” said UH spokesperson Chris Stipes. “These spaces are open to all members of the campus community and may be used for a variety of purposes.
“For example, the project team designing the new UH College of Medicine building is considering lounge areas where students, faculty and staff from the medical school can relax and reflect. As a state-funded public institution, UH cannot design or designate building spaces intended specifically for religious use,” Stipes continued.
In discussions about the reflection rooms, there was a willingness to compromise by adding shelves for religious objects outside the reflection room.
“They were willing to compromise on it a little bit, but their compromise wasn’t enough,” Rashid said. “It was still exclusive to Muslims especially.”
Some of the pushback to adding shelves in reflection spaces was not wanting to make people feel excluded viewing a religious item they don’t practice with.
“Another reason why they didn’t want to include the shelf specifically is because they didn’t want the presence of a Quran or a Torah or a Bible to make other people feel excluded,” Rashid said. “I don’t think having religious memorabilia or objects in a room excludes other people. I think it actually promotes inclusiveness.”
The University currently offers spaces in the A.D. Bruce Religion Center dedicated to various religious activities.
“We recognize our responsibility to foster an open, welcoming environment on campus for all students, faculty and staff,” Stipes said. “The interfaith A.D. Bruce Religion Center, funded through a student fee, offers a place for both quiet meditation and spiritual growth.”
Rashid contacted the Muslim Student Association to create a petition to show student support for adding the carpet and shelves. The petition currently has over 650 signatures.
Moving forward, after SGA’s unanimous approval, the University architect will present the resolution and petition to the design team creating the reflection spaces.
“(The architect) will take this petition and these two additions to the reflection spaces to the design team and then they will implement it,” Rashid said. “That part is out of my hands but (the architect) is going to keep me updated.”
While endorsing these two additions, Rashid says not adding carpet and shelves would be excluding multiple different parts of the student population.
“I think it’s important to note that these two additions won’t exclude anyone, but not including them would absolutely exclude multiple groups on campus,” Rashid said.