Metropolitan State University of Denver received a negative-attention bonanza as the result of a viral video showing a young woman saying, "Fuck you and your family" and "Fuck your religion" to Muslim students praying in a computer lab.
The incident was startling in and of itself. But the confrontation also pointed to a major issue for colleges wanting to attract a diverse student body: How can the religious activities of all students be accommodated in a way that will make everyone feel welcomed and supported — and without causing more problems?
To find out how institutions in Colorado are dealing with such matters, we contacted colleges and universities across the state and posed a series of questions. Does your institution have a designated non-denominational space for Muslim students and others to practice their faith? If not, why not, and are there any plans to introduce such a space in the future? If so, where is this space located, how would you describe it, how long has it been available and have there been any calls from Christian groups to create such an area for their use?
In addition to MSU Denver, we contacted sixteen institutions and received responses from all but one, Colorado Christian University. As you'll see, most of the colleges have tried to come up with some kind of room in which non-Christian students can honor their religion, but the attempted solutions are widely varied and unlikely to satisfy everyone. Many of the facilities have only been opened in the past few years, reflecting a belated understanding of their importance.
According to Metro State spokesperson Tim Carroll, the Auraria campus, of which MSU is a part, "has reflection rooms that can be used for prayer in the Tivoli Student Union." He characterizes them as "small, quiet spaces for individuals to use for reflection, meditation, prayer and similar activities. Prayer mats are available in each room for those who wish to use the space for prayer."
The spaces, in Tivoli rooms 348 and 349, can be used Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on a first-come, first-served basis and can be accessed by presenting a campus ID at the nearby Tivoli administration office, in suite 325. Carroll adds that the school is "currently exploring how we raise awareness and communicate about the reflection and prayer spaces available on campus." He isn't aware of any Christian groups asking for a designated prayer space, but points out that "St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church on campus has confirmed their facility is not only open to their parishioners, but that they welcome students of all denominations to utilize the church for personal prayer. The church office has confirmed that those of the Mormon and Muslim faiths have used the church for individual prayer and reflection."
He also offers the following statement about the viral video: "Metropolitan State University of Denver was made aware on Dec. 3 of a verbal altercation among students in a campus computer lab. MSU Denver immediately began looking into the circumstances surrounding this incident and is now engaging with the students involved to identify the best way to move forward that will meet their individual needs as well as those of the campus community. Out of respect to the students involved and due to privacy considerations, we are not disclosing the students' identities and actions taken but can confirm that most of them are affiliated with the university. MSU Denver takes its commitment to diversity very seriously and places a high value on cultivating and sustaining a respectful and inclusive campus community."
Spokesperson Leslie Weddell touts "our Interfaith House. Shove Memorial Chapel also is used by Buddhist, Qigong and other communities. We are exploring how to make the chapel even more inclusive and open to the community. We are always looking to expand the circle, be anti-racist, accessible to multiple spiritual communities, different cultural groups, students who identify, have multiple spiritual identities, and do not claim identity. We also have Sacred Grounds, a smaller, community gathering space on the lower level of Shove Chapel. Additionally, space is reserved in a study room in Tutt Library for Muslim students to pray five times a day."
In her words, Interfaith House, built in 2004, is "homey," Sacred Grounds is "intimate" with "vibrant colors," and Shove Chapel, established in 1931, is "large, expansive," and the college is in the process of "making it more open and inclusive. Currently Qigong, Zen Buddhist meet there in addition to music groups and Catholic community. In 2009-2010, we added Muslim prayer space." Christian students haven't called for a space of their own because, she believes, they're "focused more on how to live faith wherever students are."
A statement from DU reads: "The Evans Chapel on the University of Denver campus has for decades been a place for students, faculty and staff of all religious beliefs to practice their faith. Originally built in the 1860s in downtown Denver, the chapel was disassembled and then reassembled near the center of campus. It is now on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s intended to be a place for private prayer, reflection, campus religious groups and a site for weddings and memorial services."
UCCS spokesperson Jared Verner notes that the university "has a dedicated non-denominational space for anyone to practice their faith. It’s in our library and it’s a simple but flexible space that is about 10 feet by 20 feet that is comfortable for a single person or small groups to use. There is a small couch, a chair and a bookshelf with various religious texts for use. The space was created four years ago."
Melanie Parra, CU Boulder's assistant director of communications, reveals that the campus sports two "quiet rooms" — one in the University of Memorial Center in the Student Engagement and Collaboration Area, also known as the SECA Lounge, the other in the engineering center. They were created in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and she describes each as a "small room with a door." She adds that "the quiet spaces are not for specific groups. They are available for all students for meditation, reflection, prayer or other quiet activities." Note that the creation of the space at the UMC was an initiative driven by CU Boulder student government.
Mike Hooker, CSU's director of public affairs and communications, writes: "On the CSU campus, we have several non-denominational reflection rooms and spaces available for the university community and visitors to meditate, pray, and otherwise spend time in quiet reflection. Reflection Rooms are also called Meditation Rooms in some facilities." (Click for more information.) The rooms are located "in several buildings across campus, including the Lory Student Center, the Health and Medical Center, the Michael Smith Natural Resources Building, and the Morgan Library," as seen in this map.
The reflection rooms "are generally simple, quiet, private spaces, furnished with a chair," Hooker goes on. "The first designated reflection rooms were part of the remodel of the Lory Student Center, which reopened in January of 2015. In the five years since then, other reflection rooms have been added in the buildings mentioned above." The spaces are non-denominational and open to all faiths — and "in addition, CSU’s Danforth Chapel — built in 1953 — is a space that was designed to be a non-denominational, welcoming and peaceful place for meditation and spiritual reflection."
CU Denver Dean of Students Brittany Bohl cites "four designated, non-denomination reflection rooms that are available for members of the CU Denver community to practice their faith. They are open to all (not restricted to any specific religion). Two rooms are available only to the CU Denver community. Two are available to all members of the Auraria Campus community" — specifically the ones mentioned by MSU Denver's Carroll.
Of the rooms exclusive to folks affiliated with CU Denver, a suite at the Lola and Rob Salazar Student Wellness Center includes "virtual reality goggles...for guided meditations." It's part of a facility that opened in August 2018.
Colorado School of Mines
Spokesperson Emile Rusch divulges that "Colorado School of Mines currently has two designated locations on campus for Muslim students and others to practice their faith. The Prayer Room in the Multicultural Engineering Program house has been available for about five years. It has a sink to wash, and while our Muslim student community is the primary user group, the room is open to Mines students of all faiths. The Quiet Room in Maple Hall, one of our residence halls, is also open to all students, as a quiet space for reflection and prayer. It’s been available for about a year."
Additionally, Rusch continues. "Arthur Lakes Library recently received approval to designate a space in the library as a prayer room. Not sure when that room will officially open."
Debbie Crawford-Arensman, representing Colorado Mountain College, states: "We do not have designated space on campus dedicated to any religious faith, and as far as I can determine have not had students request one. However, we do have a few student clubs at different campuses."
CSU-Pueblo public information officer Haley Robinson offers: "Since Fall of 2016, CSU-Pueblo has a room in its Library and Academic Resource Center (LARC) designated for mindfulness activities and practices, whether those be prayer, meditation, yoga, silent reflection or other mindfulness activities. The room has windows and a glass door, coverings for which could be requested from library staff."
At present, she goes on, "there are no concrete plans by the university to create additional spaces specifically dedicated or designed for individuals to practice their faith. CSU-Pueblo seeks to meet the needs of its students, and evaluates these needs on an ongoing basis. There have not been any requests by students of any faith for additional space to practice their faith on campus."
Western Colorado University
WCU director of marketing and communications Jeremy Simon discloses that the school has "a dedicated meditation and devotion space in our campus library that is available for and utilized by anyone in the Western community who wants to practice their faith. We have not had any particular conflicts or calls for/critiques of usage by any particular constituency, though it’s fair to say our demographic differs from that of more urban institutions."
Adams State University
"In the student union building at Adams State," maintains spokesperson Chris Lopez, "we have an open space that is advertised as a 'safe space' and is open to all. In addition, there is the multicultural space that can be used by groups and organizations. We have not had any requests as you describe but would make every accommodation to support such a request if we got one."
Although Regis is a Jesuit-Catholic institution, director of communications Jennifer Forker makes it clear that other doctrines are honored: "Of course, people may pray wherever they feel comfortable on campus, but one location that’s devoted to private prayer is the Newland Prayer Room in the St. John Francis Regis Chapel on our northwest Denver campus. Our University Ministry department provides prayer rugs for people to use. Personally, I describe the space as peaceful, unadorned, intimate and inviting. It’s where I go when I need a respite or to meditate."
Colorado Mesa University
CMU's David Ludlam points to plans in the works: "Colorado Mesa University is currently in the architectural design phase of a non-denominational space for interfaith reflection, meditation, prayer and/or student fellowship. This space will be constructed in 2020-2021. The CMU sanctuary construction location will be near the northwest quadrant of campus adjacent to the soon-to-be completed campus teaching hotel, as well as adjacent to student housing."
The space "will function as a place where those with religious or spiritual dispositions can find quiet, solace and experience a reverent space conducive to prayer, meditation and/or relaxation," he allows. "The space is designed as a structure conducive to introspection. The building of the sanctuary will have the kind of lighting and aesthetic characteristics that are warm and inviting, but that avoid any overt, direct correlation with any specific religious tradition. The space will also encourage those who are secular, non-religious or those who subscribe to forms of humanism to utilize the space with equal utility as those students who may simply wish to meditate, enjoy peaceful silence and or find sanctuary from the ever-present electronic and social stimulations found elsewhere on campus." No Christian groups have requested a room of their own.
Ludlam emphasizes that "CMU has long planned to have such a space in the mid-term build out of the CMU campus. The location and time for the space is close-at-hand, as expansion has neared the planned footprint area for the sanctuary. Throughout the years some have pointed out that most other campuses in the nation have such spaces. We hope the campus’ forthcoming interfaith sanctuary can play a small role in aiding people who need specially designated space for solitude, reflection, worship and/or prayer. All students, faculty and staff, irrespective of faith or values system, will have broad access to the facility."
University of Northern Colorado
UNC's Nate Haas confirms that the college has "spaces dedicated for reflection, prayer and other contemplative practices" on the "second floor of the University Center (our student center) and in various rooms of our sixteen residence halls." They vary by location but include "minimal furnishings to accommodate multiple uses." This is the fourth year since their creation.
Fort Lewis College
FLC media relations coordinator Lauren Savage stresses that "we take religious freedom and free speech very seriously. While we typically have very few Muslim students at Fort Lewis College, we have countless different religious and spiritual practices among our student body, which includes representation from more than 170 Native American tribes. Currently, Fort Lewis College has a number of registered student organizations ('clubs') and cultural centers that provide community, support, education, and resources to students from various backgrounds. The Strategic Plan that was adopted in 2019 includes initiatives around diversity, equity and inclusion, including the formation of a Mosaic Center to further support and educate students within the multicultural communities on our campus."
The grounds boast "the T. Chase McPherson Memorial Chapel, a non-denominational space that is open and unlocked and available for times of prayer. It’s also available for church services, weddings, memorials and other celebratory events of a spiritual nature, which typically require reservations. The space is frequently utilized by our faith-based student organizations, of which we currently don’t have any specific for Muslim students. Any student can create a student organization. The chapel is located on the rim of campus, overlooking Durango. It was built in 1958."
Savage adds, "Just to note other support specific to Muslim students, we do have experience with accommodating needs. Some examples: We have made housing assignments based on which direction the apartment is situated, to facilitate praying to the East. We have also worked with dining services around dietary needs specific to the Muslim faith."
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