Further Updates: 25 September 2007
If you're getting here from Google, you can find our reaction to the Administration's e-mail to the student body over here.
Tuesday was my first night of class for the Fall semester, and one of the first things on my agenda back at Mason was to go and check on last spring's contested "meditation" space
. Last I had heard from the Student Government, there was zero chance of expansion
of the prayer room, and the MSA was instructed to ensure that students who use the space stow all of their partitions and prayer mats when the area is not in use.
Imagine my surprise to see that, upon returning to campus, that a large educational space—which is "coincidentally" located directly next door to the contested "meditation" space—has been relocated due to construction. What was originally a computer lab, a media room (computer graphics and multimedia production), and a space for math tutorship, has been moved out of their previous location, which had been there for as long as I've been going to Mason. The area which was formerly used for educational purposes is now under construction, though oddly enough, there is no sign of what it is intended
to be, except for a building permit which identifies the work as being done for "renovation."
I've put in a request with a couple of my contacts on campus to see if anyone knows what's going on. There is at present no mention
of this construction in the school's student newspaper, the Broadside
, and even though the official school newsletter
mentions a number of construction projects, there's not a word regarding the former Media Lab space.
At the time I initially came through the area that afternoon, the prayer room was actually in the process of being used by a large group of Muslim students, and the partitions were set up as usual to segregate the men from the women. So, returning after my class let out at 9 PM, I stopped by again to have a look, and noticed that the partitions and floor mats were still set up.
So much for the Administration taking a tough stand on keeping the space ecumenical.
I sat down for a moment to pray there, to get a feel for what other students must be feeling. Or at least, I tried to. The space is definitely intimidating, even during the relatively quiet hours of night—which aren't all that quiet: I ran into two Muslim students while trying to get in to the space to use it. I can't imagine how difficult it would be to get in that space during the busy
parts of the day!
I'm going to be keeping an eye on the construction right next door—if the University is doing anything other than renovating educational space on this already-overcrowded building, you'll hear about it here, first.
Until later, here are the pictures of the areas I'm discussing—Please forgive the large size and graininess of the originals: I have not had opportunity to scale these phone-camera shots down for the website at present.Update:
I just noticed this press release
issued by the University on the 27th of July, most likely in response to the USA Today article
written on the topic:
STATEMENT FROM GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY ON CAMPUS MEDITATION SPACE—July 27, 2007
Media Contact: Jennifer Edgerly, [email protected] (703)-993-8699
FAIRFAX, Va., July 27, 2007 - George Mason University is proud of its ranking as one of the nation's most diverse universities, with students from more than 130 countries. As one of Virginia's largest higher education institutions, the university supports and maintains a peaceful and tolerant environment on campus while adhering to the appropriate separation of church and state that is expected from a public institution.
Recent news articles have presented a misleading and inaccurate description of the meditation room on the Fairfax Campus. The meditation room in the Johnson Center, a student union building, was established seven years ago in response to those in the university community who wanted a quiet, drop-in location for reflection and prayer. The room is open to all on campus who wish to utilize it for quiet meditation. It is not and never has been affiliated with a specific religion or religious practice and there are no plans to change this in the future.
Alleged issues surrounding the use of the meditation room that were discussed in an article in Mason's student newspaper nearly three months ago were resolved peacefully on campus last spring with no additional problems. The students on campus who utilize the meditation room, including the Muslim students, have shown the utmost respect for each other and for George Mason University.
My apologies for not writing about this sooner, but from what I've continued to read on the SGA bulletin board, the issue was most certainly not
resolved in the Spring. Nice to see that the Administration is starting to take notice
of the seriousness of the situation, though. Not that I expect anything good to come of it.