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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Campus

Wudu station SGA resolution hits roadblock with Facilities/Construction Management


Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

Last month, the Student Government Association unanimously passed the Wudu Station Resolution. But the legislation, despite being met with resounding support from the Senate, has hit a brick wall with the administration. 

The resolution established a task force to plan the construction and installation in partnership with the Facilities/Construction Management Department. But progress has been brought to a halt by the University, which  cited Article 1, Section 7  of the Texas Constitution. The clause prohibits the use of public funds or property for religious purposes. 

Senior Director of Media Relations Chris Stipes said that input from the University’s advisory groups is constantly evaluated for feasibility and implementation based on legal requirements, funding availability and alignment with UH’s goals. 

“We are aware of the SGA legislation that supports the installation of centralized Wudu stations on campus,” Stipes said. “However, state law prohibits UH from designating building spaces specifically for religious use.”

Representatives of the Muslim Student Association were disappointed by the University’s response. MSA campus life coordinator and Middle Eastern studies sophomore Ibrahim Islam said the claims that such accommodations would violate state law are contradictory and ungrounded. 

“Not only were the students expected to fundraise for their own accommodations, but they were told to secure a location that the university didn’t own,” he said. “This response was an attempt to reject the legislation by SGA and the requests of the broader student community.”

The resolution was passed in response to reports of a growing safety hazard in MD Anderson Library, where Muslim students currently go to pray. Hundreds of students were performing ritual ablution in the washrooms, struggling to wash their feet and elbows said Islam. The legislation was seen as a first step toward addressing these issues.. 

“I saw how happy students were when they saw that the Wudu station resolution was going up, and how happy students were in the group chat when we were making the task force,” said MSA member and political science senior Tasnuva Haque. 

But Mohammad Tabbara, political science sophomore and SGA director of multicultural affairs, said that Facilities/Construction Management has been less than forthcoming in their conversations with SGA. 

“There was a lot of back and forth over the summer with Facilities/Construction Management constantly pushing us back towards the A.D. Bruce Religion Center, even though we already had communications with the Center,” Tabbara said. “This felt rather dismissive of SGA and our goals.”

Initial setbacks aside, the task force has contacted out-of-school donors and Islamic centers to try and explore possible avenues with them to achieve their goals. However, it’s difficult to secure funding without knowing the exact costs of building the stations, Tabarra said. 

“There are so many unknowns that come with construction that unless facilities are as hands-on as the task force in tackling the initiative there are bound to be obstructions within our road,” Tabbara said. 

Similarly, MSA representatives said they will not stop in their mission to make students comfortable on campus. Islam does note that MSA’s relationship with the University is more complicated. He said several diversity initiatives, like accommodating for Ramadan or setting up morning prayers, have been met with hostility. 

“The argument that public universities can’t fund such projects seems to be a lie or laziness encapsulated in legal jargon,” Islam said. “Accommodating student needs on campus is a responsibility of the University.” 

Public and private universities such as Marquette University, Mount Royal University, University of Minnesota, and University of Illinois Chicago, accommodated Muslim students by installing Wudu stations. In addition, Texas A&M has a Muslim Student Center while the University of Texas at Austin has a mosque near campus.

While SGA faces roadblocks, Tabbara said they continue to focus on helping students at the University. 

“Being able to accommodate a large population of students at UH by giving them a more suitable and welcoming environment should never be up for debate,” Tabbara said.

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