UT should expand spiritual spaces to every building on campus

Neha Dronamraju

Let’s take a walk down the Drag to campus. Among the shops and eateries, you will see at least two churches and maybe a mosque if you venture toward 21st and Nueces Streets. These places of worship are not affiliated with the University, but they do serve many UT students because of their proximity to campus.

There are 144 religious organizations registered with the University, all representing a variety of faiths. Every single one of these organizations lacks easy access to the specific space of worship their faith calls for.

It is impossible for the University to serve all religions to an adequate extent because of the sheer number of religions represented. Additionally, there are legal restrictions placed on state institutions regarding religious establishments. 

However, UT can provide more nondenominational places of worship on campus. The University should redesignate at least one room in every building to for this purpose.

Biology freshman Ali Muhammad, who requested to not be mentioned by his full name, worships five times a day. He alternates his prayer space between the meditation room in the Perry-Castañeda Library and the mosque on Nueces. He often finds it difficult to practice his faith with the lack of University resources. 

“I worship everyday, five times a day, and sometimes it’s hard to fit that into my schedule,” Muhammad said. “In my religion, we pray out loud, so it sometimes annoys occupants of the meditation room who are there to quietly meditate, and the mosque on Nueces is a 10 to 15 minute walk, so I can’t always make it there.”

Muhammad also said that while the meditation room accommodates his needs, he wishes there were more so he wouldn’t have to walk to the PCL every time he wants to pray.

According to Student Body Vice President Mehraz Rahman, there are currently only three reflection spaces on campus: one in the PCL, one in the Union and one in Ernest Cockrell Jr. Hall.

Rahman moved to reform this problem that inconveniences her and many of her peers.

“I pray five times a day, so I often had to pray in stairwells and put my face to the dirty ground because there were only two reflection spaces on campus,” Rahman said. “It’s difficult to run to the PCL or the Union if you’re in class. I wasn’t the only one who was having these problems.”

But when Rahman attempted to fix this problem, she encountered an obstacle — any space on campus is coveted, and claiming that space proved to be difficult. Rahman took on this project last year, and the reflection space she worked to establish in the engineering building opened just last week. Rahman said it took so long because even new spaces popping up on campus are already claimed — but it was still possible.

Adding a reflection space to every existing building on campus in addition to any new building plans is not an easy fix, nor is it a quick one. But it is an essential commodity for students who need a spiritual space.

There is a community of students on campus who pray regularly — sometimes everyday or multiple times a day. UT cannot reasonably expect students to incorporate a commute to a place of worship into their busy schedules. UT should redesignate at least one room in each building on campus — including dorms — as nondenominational places of worship. Students deserve access to spaces for worship across their campus.

“This is a great step for everybody,” Rahman said. “It’s reaffirming the University’s commitment to showing all students that they belong here.” 

Dronamraju is a public health freshman from Dallas.