Religion is a huge part of many people’s lives — billions of people identify as Christian or Muslim alone. Sacred rituals and practices are important to these beliefs, but some students and faculty at the University of Wyoming campus are finding it difficult to carry out their faith’s ceremonies.
The Associated Students of the University of Wyoming has been looking into the possibility of designating a quiet, nondenominational prayer room for years, said Sam Bower, ASUW director of student affairs and diversity.
“We’ll be looking out for marginalized students that, a majority of the time, get washed under the rug,” he said. “This would be a great step for religious students, fostering this idea of a space people can go and be safe.”
The unique needs of Muslims on campus helped spark the idea of a prayer room, Bower said.
“There is an off-campus Islamic center they can walk to, but it’s not realistic (to do) between classes,” he said. “Of course, other student groups have shown support for a meditation room.”
The Latter-day Saint Student Association and Hillel at the University of Wyoming have both agreed a common prayer room is needed, Bower said.
Muslims need a quiet space when then pray five times a day, and there are not currently many accommodating sites on campus.
“Right now, we have students praying in the hall,” said Suleyman Naqshband, Muslim Students Association secretary. “It’s not appropriate for us or other people, and there are privacy issues.”
Wudhu, a ritual cleansing and washing of the hands, feet and face, is performed before prayer. Many students are forced to use the bathrooms before finding a place for prayer.
“Because we have to cleanse ourselves before our prayer, (people have) noticed the hall will become totally wet, because they have 20 students doing this,” he said. “These kinds of issues can be resolved if a certain area is available,” Naqshband said.
A meditation room is already in the schematic designs of the new Engineering Building, said Michael Pishko, Dean of the College of Engineering.
“We have two student service spaces in the plan — one is a nondenominational prayer room, and the other is a family room,” he said. “It’s going to be the only space on campus (like this) at this point. I can’t guarantee they’ll be in the finished building, but right now, it looks good.”
In the meantime, ASUW is trying to locate a temporary space on campus before the building is finished, but that can be difficult, ASUW President Brian Schueler said.
“The problem is, not every space on campus is going to be perfect for this reflection room,” he said. “Most rooms on campus aren’t designed for intimate meditation or prayer — they were meant for teaching.”
Right now, students on campus can use the Multicultural Resource Center, but it is not set up as a praying area. Students also rent out rooms in the Wyoming Union for half-hour blocks, although a Muslim prayer only takes a few minutes. Naqshband and other professors or graduate students can use their rooms for prayer.
Because a nondenominational prayer or meditation room is not promoting one specific religion or belief, no First Amendment laws will likely be broken.
Vice President and General Counsel Rick Miller said meditation rooms are common at universities throughout the nation and offer students a “place to recharge and refocus.”
Relations with international students can also increase with the addition of a prayer room, Naqshband said.
“This will be very important for the students here and those who want to come to a university (in the United States),” he said. “Students look for those facilities.
“It’s part of our life, and its important for students coming here.”