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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Monday, June 24, 2024

Senate to consider idea of 24-hour prayer space

The Tufts Community Union (TCU) Senate is looking into establishing a 24-hour prayer space to serve students who find the current availability of spiritual locations on campus lacking.

Senior Jennifer Bailey, a trustee representative, proposed the idea several weeks ago in response to a friend's concerns about limited opportunities to pray on campus.

"[The idea] just kind of came out of a conversation with a friend who multiple times has wanted to pray, and there's really nothing available for students to do that," Bailey said.

Though the Senate has not passed a resolution on the matter, TCU President Duncan Pickard said the body is looking into the possibility of establishing such a space. Pickard had what he called an "informal conversation" with University Chaplain David O'Leary on Monday to discuss the idea.

"It really comes down to feasibility," Pickard said. "I think it's something that all students could benefit from — students who are devoutly religious, but also [it could be] just a place for meditation and reflection, something that transcends faith."

O'Leary said that the talk on Monday constituted the first time he had heard of student desire for additional venues for prayer. While he supports the idea, he said keeping such a space open 24 hours a day would generate legal complications.

"There's some other issues we need to be very careful about, like liability [and] insurance," O'Leary said. "I'd be very concerned about [the] safety of students."

Bailey said the room would theoretically be available for any sort of meditation, religious or not, and would appeal to students of various spiritualities.

"I honestly think it's something a lot of students could benefit from, regardless of [their] religious tradition," she said. "It's just nice to have a quiet space to go and leave your troubles at the door."

Juliana Ssemanda, a junior who regularly leads a small group discussion for the Tufts Christian Fellowship (TCF), said she has does not have time to pray during the day and has often found herself looking for a suitable place to pray on campus at night.

"I do need that space just to pray, to get me grounded," Ssemanda said. "It's really hard if you have housemates … and you don't want to offend them. The only other options are common rooms, but even that [is] hard."

Bailey said that adding the prayer space is not a demanding request. She recommended designating a room that is already open late at night and not generally used, like a small classroom in Eaton Hall. She said that there would be no need for staff to administer it.

Ssemanda said that she usually uses an empty room in Eaton for nighttime prayer, but finds that the space feels too "academic." She said she hopes the administration will establish a space meant solely for prayer, "just so we're not feeling like we're infringing on someone else's property."

She added, "I wouldn't want it to be any old room. I'd want it to look nice, to be taken care of. I want it to be a cleansing space."

Pickard said that O'Leary's office would be willing to outfit a vacant room to serve as a prayer space, but O'Leary first needs to work with the Office of Residential Life and Learning to see if establishing prayer rooms in dorms is possible.

There is currently a room available in Goddard Chapel for private meditation, but it is not open all night. Pickard said that a fair amount of Muslim students use the room for their daily prayers, but that it is "something that a lot of people don't know about."

Ssemanda, who was not aware that the meditation room exists, said that both the chapel and the Interfaith Center close too early to meet her prayer needs.

According to O'Leary, the chapel, including the meditation room, closes at 9 p.m. from Monday through Thursday, and at 5 p.m. on Friday. It is not open on the weekends, aside from scheduled prayer services. The Interfaith Center is open until 10 p.m. from Monday through Thursday.

Pickard plans on working with O'Leary to publicize the resources already available for religious groups on campus, like the meditation room. He also hopes to draft a list of university-endorsed chaplains and religious leaders in the area around Tufts to whom students can go if they need further information or advising.

"It is impractical to think that we could hire a chaplain for all faiths on campus," Pickard said. "[The list of associated chaplains] is one of the ways that we can make sure all students are represented in the chaplaincy."

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