Kwantlen’s introduction of a dedicated prayer and meditation room earlier this semester was decidedly uncontroversial. Refreshingly so.
There were no public protests and no letters to the editors of the school papers complaining about the intrusion of religion into the public sphere.
The room was created in response to multiple requests from students and staff for a space to practise their respective faiths. Whether you chalk it up to typical Kwantlen apathy or an extremely enlightened outlook on faith and tolerance, the prayer room has continued to operate freely and without incident.
Compare that non-reaction to controversies generated about religious accommodations on other campuses across the country. Five years ago, McGill University in Montreal closed its prayer room and argued that a religious space didn’t belong at a secular university. Students responded by filing a complaint with the Quebec Human Rights Commission.
Admittedly, the Kwantlen prayer room is nothing to write home about. It’s the size of a very small office or cubicle and the bare concrete floor is reminiscent of a prison cell. Several groups on campus have expressed concern that the spartan room is not large enough for group prayers or other religious meetings with more than two or three people.
In response, university administrators have promised to look for new space as it becomes available, with the aim of eventually opening prayer rooms on all four campuses.
Conflicts between the secular and religious sectors continue to make headlines all over Canada. The questions of how far religious freedoms extend and what place religion has in the public square, or more specifically at a public university, aren’t going to be resolved anytime soon, but they are ones we should think about carefully.
Because what better place to foster a reasoned and educated discussion about faith than at a university?
Surrey Kwantlen students looking to practise their faith now have an answer to their prayers, after the September opening of an on-campus dedicated prayer and meditation room.
The Centre for Student Life and Community quietly opened the prayer and meditation room in the learning centre in the Surrey campus library on Tuesday, Sept. 21. The initiative was created after the university received requests from students of different religious faiths seeking accommodation.
“Having the space available allows students of multiple backgrounds and faiths to be able to come in and make use of the space,” said Jody Gordon, the associate vice-president of students. The room has been made available seven days a week for use by students, staff and faculty as a space for quiet prayer and meditation, and can be booked in advance or used on a drop-in basis.
“But it’s not exclusive to those who may come looking for the space for religious purposes. It is also considered a secular space where someone may just need to the use the space to relax and let the stress go, that they’re often experiencing as students,” said Gordon.
The semiprivate and modestly-furnished room is used by an average of 10 to 12 people a day and the demand is already growing, according to Gordon. A student faith group on campus has also asked to use the space for its meetings.
She says that so far most of the requests for space have come from the Surrey and Richmond campuses, but she is expecting to offer similar a service on all the Kwantlen campuses as the space becomes available.
She said the department of Student Life will monitor the success of the pilot room with an eye to seeking improvements and meeting demand. “It’s a first and . . . modest attempt at trying to dedicate some space to quiet prayer and meditation,” said Gordon. “If this is something our community really wants to see us continue to have, then we want to continue to commit the resources to it.”
Amy Lange, a student representative for Kwantlen University Christian Ministries, has looked into using the room for her group’s weekly meetings, but discovered that the room can only accommodate six students and is too small for the group.
“While these changes are good, there is still a ways to go,” said Lange in an e-mail interview.
Students interested in using the space can call 604-599-2900 for more information.