Utah Valley University cut the ribbon on their new reflection center in the Student Life and Wellness Center. The center will provide a space for students of all religious orientations to pray, meditate, study and congregate.
The center has been in the planning process for 15 years by Brian Birch, director of the Center for the Study of Ethics and the Religious Studies Program. When UVU President Matthew Holland came to the campus five years ago, he also gave his support to the center as part of his inclusion initiative.
President Holland said the space reflects a commitment to inclusiveness and human spirituality, as well as a civic obligation.
“We have this space for our students to not only pray, meditate and have solace and contribute to their wellness, we also wanted a space that would contribute to dialogue, interaction and cooperative enterprises,” said Birch.
Alexis Palmer, senior director of community and continuing education, told a story of some Muslim students who previously had to pray in bathroom stalls.
“That’s unacceptable and I’m thrilled that we have a place now for our students to go to meditate, to reflect and to have prayer and experience their religious expression in a way that is appropriate for them,” said Palmer.
Linda Walton, a chaplain and co-adviser to the Interfaith Club, conceptualized the space initially and had also heard of students resorting to praying in their cars.
“Our goals include religious liberty for everyone and community service to help anyone in need,” said Walton.
“I can probably count on one hand the public universities, Penn State, University of Wisconsin-Madison, who have come anywhere close to the kind of commitment that you’re making here,” said Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core. Patel also spoke as the keynote speaker in the presidential lecture.
Students have had access to the reflection center on a limited basis since the building opened in April. The official launch of the center had been planned along with the opening of the building, but was postponed to coincide with the beginning of the semester.
“It unofficially opened and we had some activities in there, but we wanted to have the ribbon-cutting close in proximity to the beginning of the semester here so that we could get as many students connected to it as possible,” said Birch.
There are three sections of the reflection center – the convening room, the prayer room and the meditation room. Student clubs can reserve sections of the center for relevant activities.
The center is located on the first floor of the Student Life and Wellness Center, around the corner from the bowling alley, next to the green stairs. To combat the proximity to the bowling alley, there are two sound barriers – sometimes three – between each of the rooms.
“They took great pains to try to eliminate the noise and they did a fantastic job,” said Birch. With all of the doors closed, the bowling balls and the bass from the music outside are subtle.
Part of the reason the center took 15 years to launch is that the university spent a lot of time talking to interested parties to ensure that one group wouldn’t be favored over another and there would be no confrontations.
“When I used to go UVU, the project was presented to me and I was one of the Saudi student representatives to attend a multi-religious committee to talk about this center. I have to tell you that this is amazing. I talked to the Muslim students in general at UVU and they were so delighted about this center and the idea behind it,” said Moe Obaid, a recent graduate from UVU.
Representatives from Chi Alpha, a Christian Fellowship on campus, were present for the ribbon-cutting. Previously, they were meeting in smaller groups in classrooms or library study rooms. Carly Guidry, Mikey Stuart, Chris Hewitt and Darin Lemonsaid this will make meeting much easier.
“Here, I feel there’s the freedom to really express ourselves, which is really cool,” said Mikey Stuart. “It is big. I’ve been to other universities and not many other universities do this. Like Eboo[Patel] was saying, in 15 years, I could see other schools doing this.”
Tiffany Frandsen | News Editor |@Tiffany_mf
Tiffany is the Deputy Managing Editor for Spring 2015. Follow her on twitter @tiffany_mf