The Office of Religious Life completed renovations to the school’s main prayer space for Muslim students and opened two new prayer spaces in the Sarratt Student Center and the Commons Center earlier this year as part of an effort to better serve the prayer needs of Vanderbilt’s Muslim students.
In the main prayer room, located behind the Office of Religious Life building, functional renovations consisted of the removal and partial rebuilding of a wall to allow for more floor room, new appliances and bathroom fixtures. As for cosmetic changes, the walls were painted and the furniture and carpeting were replaced. Other changes included new locks on the outside in order to provide security to students utilizing the space.
The two new spaces were opened during Fall 2017 to supplement the main prayer space and give students more accessibility to these types of areas during the day. They came about as the result of talks between the Muslim Students Association (MSA) and the Office of Religious Life.
“[This idea] was initiated at least through [talks with] MSA, that I also advise, and after hearing from the executive offices of the MSA, our graduate assistant and I last year conducted a focus group with Muslim students just to get a better understanding from their perspective in terms of what was needed to supplement a prayer space as it currently existed,” Dr. Rev. Mark Forrester, Director of Religious Life, said.
Sarratt and Commons were chosen to house these spaces to maximize student accessibility.
“There are critical times in the day, especially in the late morning and early afternoon times when walking across the campus or even coming from say Peabody campus over here is very inconvenient and they don’t have time to do that. And so they would like to have a quick space to go to do a prayer among the five prayers of the day,” Forrester said.
According to Forrester, the addition of these spaces on campus has been beneficial to all students as they give Muslim students a convenient space to pray during the day and students of other faiths a quiet space to stop and meditate.
The Office of Religious Life is simply doing what it can to provide for the religious and spiritual needs of the students that come to Vanderbilt
“These secondary prayers spaces that we have created are not usually space that are used for group activity such as group prayer or group worship. They are typically not used for that purpose,” Forrester said. “It’s more just individuals who need to get in a little bit of time. Some because of religious obligation actually need to get in a prayer time. Other people just choose to come in to do that for their own good.”
The Office of Religious Life and the Director of the Recreational Center have been in talks about the possibility of including a prayer space in the Rec Center, though nothing has been confirmed.
“We have been in conversation, for example with the Director of the Rec Center and they are seriously considering designating a space in the rec center, although I hasten to add that this is still being talked about, it is not a done deal. But they are open to the idea,” Forrester said.
In addition to these three prayer spaces, there is also the All Faith Chapel, located on the ground floor of the Divinity School, which gives all students a place to pray or take a quiet moment.
“These prayer spaces are in place now because the Office of Religious Life, as you would expect, is simply doing what it can to provide for the religious and spiritual needs of the students that come to Vanderbilt,” Forrester said. “Another really important aspect of these spaces as they continue to grow on campus is that whether you are religious or spiritual or even non religious, understand that there is a lot to be gained from having quiet times or meditation times and that we are trying to partner with other departments and areas of our campus to also emphasize student wellbeing.”