All faiths are welcome at the Interfaith Meditation Room. University Ministry is set to launch the prayer room on Oct. 4, 2010. Located to the left of University Ministry (in the former Foghorn office), it will be open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Paul McWilliams, interfaith coordinator at University Ministry, has overseen the completion of the project, but the push for a meditation space on campus can be attributed to USF senior Alia Al-Sharif.
A member of the executive board on the Muslim Student Association (MSA) and former interfaith sub chair on the Mission Committee of ASUSF Senate, Al-Sharif said the meditation room was a necessity on campus. She said, “As a Muslim student, I could not find a prayer room designated for me to pray. I spoke to Buddhist, Christian [non-Catholic] and Jewish students with the same problem. When I would try to book a room through Event Scheduling, they always said no. I could not book a space for prayer.”
In an attempt to gather for reflection, Al-Sharif and the Muslim Student Association were left to meet in interim spaces such as the Atrium, Parina lounge and the student lounge of the formally known Multicultural Student Services (now Intercultural Center).
Not pleased with the lack of a permanent space, Al-Sharif lobbied for an interfaith room on campus through ASUSF Senate. Al-Sharif said, “Senate is the place to go when USF administrators won’t listen. It’s a way to capture their attention and tell them that 55,000 undergraduates support your initiative to make something happen.”
However, is it realistic to think that more than 50,000 students will use the new meditation room? In a survey of 110 USF students, 63 students would not, yet 47 say they would. The answer for some students depended on whether they were Catholic and preferred to pray at St. Ignatius Church. Answers also depended on the terminology used to describe the space.
When asked whether they would use a prayer room on campus, many students replied they would not—regardless of whether they considered themselves spiritual. However, when asked if they would use a meditation room on campus, several pondered the idea longer, leading to a slight increase in the students that said they would use the space.
With respect to students that replied they would not use the room, many said they don’t believe they would have time or want to make the effort to make use of the space. Most of these students, however, agreed that the space was a good asset to the USF campus.
When discussing the differences between St.Ignatius Church and the meditation room, Paul McWilliams said that the church can sometimes be “specific, daunting and overwhelming.”
In contrast, Al-Sharif described the ambience of the meditation room as, “safe, cozy and homey.” She added that she envisioned a blank space with painted walls and carpet but that the room exceeded her expectations.
The interfaith room currently includes a soft gray carpet, cushions and ottomans for seating, as well as a black notebook intended for student feedback. A silk screen and straw mat welcome those who enter to engage in silent prayer.
The meditation room, initially a space given to University Ministry during the campus renovations and moving of USF offices, is small but Al-Sharif said the space is convenient for individual reflection. No religious symbols hang on the walls, but McWilliams said interfaith books and sacred texts would be added for anyone who wished to read inside the room. Looking around the space, Al-Sharif said she is pleased to still be on campus for the realization of her initiative.
Feedback from the USF community is encouraged via the black notebook inside the Interfaith Meditation Room or through Paul McWilliams at ext. 5779.
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