Request for larger prayer space denied, advocacy continues

Emanuela Gallo, Editor-in-Chief

Baruch College is currently unable to fulfill Muslim students’ request for a larger or separate prayer space. Some students are thus organizing a “grassroots” campaign to convert a large club room into a meditation space.

“At this time, the College cannot reasonably and equitably accommodate this request because we are space-challenged,” Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Art King said in an email on Feb. 1.

As previously reported by The Ticker, the current meditation room is too small to accommodate the demand. Overcrowding and a lack of weekend access were among the issues faced by students.

Baruch’s current meditation room is 3-225 in the William and Anita Newman Vertical Campus. It is available to all students to exercise their religious freedoms.

Muslim students complete their five obligatory daily prayers there, in addition to room 3-227. The latter was designated for Muslim student organizations, but they sacrificed it to make more room for prayer space.

Last fall, Muslim students advocated for a solution, such as a larger multi-faith space or a space designated for Muslim students.

“We make our best effort to reasonably accommodate space requests, but we are under no statutory obligation to provide any group of students with their own personal religious space,” King wrote in the email.

King’s Feb. 1 email was a follow-up to an in-person Jan. 31 meeting with approximately seven students advocating on behalf of Muslim students. It was a continuation of conversations that began last semester, as reported by The Ticker.

Sophomore and Computer Information Systems major Ibrahim Rauf, who was present at the meeting, said King explained Baruch’s overall issue with space. King cited how over 120 student organizations compete for the three large club event spaces.

“It wasn’t the solution we were looking for,” Rauf said. “But [King] is putting his all in it. We still really appreciate what he’s doing for us because he believes that it is an issue.”

To find a solution, Muslim students are reaching out to different student organizations to ask if they would support converting room 2-125 to a permanent meditation room. Among these students are Rauf, sophomore Pasnimud Tanzid and freshman Saad Amin.

“We’re just filling them in, like hey this has been going on,” Amin, who is also the events coordinator for the Muslim Student Association, said. “We’re bringing the idea to them. We’re not making them sign it right away.”

Room 2-125 was previously a temporary meditation room during the 2021-2022 school year, when the 3rd-floor club suite was closed. However, it became a club event space again once in-person club events resumed in fall 2022.

Room 2-125 accommodates 65 people, according to the Office of Student Life’s website. It is much larger than the current meditation room, 3-225.

During the past two weeks, students got signatures from 20 to 30 leaders of various Baruch student organizations. Some of the clubs that support the initiative so far are the Muslim Business Association, Vietnamese Student Association and Pakistani Students Association, according to Amin.

After getting more signatures, they plan on bringing the petition to Student Life.

In the Feb. 1 email, Student Life recommended that Muslim clubs reserve a large club space for special religious occasions or when a larger group of student worshippers are anticipated.

However, Amin said this is not an appropriate solution. He said continual access is necessary to complete the five daily prayers, particularly the ones that occur midday, afternoon and at sunset, when students typically are on campus.

“Some people need to pray in between classes, some people pray late,” he said. “The solution [King] gave us for a certain time period doesn’t really work.”

Additionally, the room would have to be reserved by a club. However, Rauf and Amin said prayer should not have to be organized as a club activity.

“Not every Muslim student is part of the Muslim Student Association,” Rauf said. “That’s just a club at the end of the day. Islam is something completely different.”

The overcrowded meditation room is a safety hazard, students said. During prayer times, students often spill out into the hallways.

Muslims are expected to remove their shoes during prayer. Due to limited space, these shoes often are left in the hallway, which block people walking by.

Muslim students also said their advocacy for a larger meditation room is out of respect for other faiths. Amin said he doesn’t want others to feel unwelcome in the room.

“We don’t want to feel like we’re taking it over, as Muslims,” Amin said. “Because that’s what it feels like right now … everyone can’t fit inside.”

For now, Muslim students sometimes pray in the second-floor lobby. Amin said they avoid making it a “burden” for others, ensuring they don’t block entrances and exits.

“At the end of the day, I didn’t want to pray there, I’m assuming other people didn’t want to pray there,” he said. “We felt more like Baruch made us pray there … we didn’t have the space elsewhere.”

While not an ideal situation, Rauf said they must complete their daily prayer obligations somehow.

“It is our religious right,” Rauf said. “This is obligated of us … this is very, very important.”