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Muslim students object to new sensory corner in prayer space on campus

Cubbies and a fountain are located at the entrance to the Reflection Space on the fourth floor of the Student Center. (Lukas Katilius)

Muslim students at Columbia are upset that the college created a new sensory corner in the Reflection Space  at the Student Center where they pray. 

The Chronicle first reported about the new sensory space on Oct. 3. There was immediate outcry on social media

The Reflection Space, located on the fourth floor of the Student Center,  is divided into two rooms.  The first room is an area with sinks and cubbies for shoes where Muslim students prepare to pray before entering a carpeted area behind glass walls that is now designated as a sensory space. A blue crash pad is in the corner in the direction of “qibla,” meaning Muslim students have to face the sensory area – and any people using it – while praying.

The sensory space, funded through a DEI grant, was designed primarily for autistic students and others who are neurodiverse.

Samaher AbuRabah, a senior journalism and public relations major and vice president of the Muslim Student Association, said she uses the Reflection Space nearly every day. She said the addition of the sensory corner isn’t fair to the religious community or to neurodiverse students. 

“Giving us our respective spaces as well as creating a new one that is more comfortable and more accessible to the neurodivergent students would help both communities,” AbuRabah said. “I don’t think you need to combine both of the groups into one space to be diverse and inclusive.” 

The Reflection Space  is the only space designated for meditation and prayer on campus.

AbuRabah said that people using the Reflection Space for a variety of reasons – some of which include just looking for a quiet place to relax or to study – don’t always respect that students also use it to pray. 

“There used to be a sign that said ‘please take off your shoes’ because as Muslims, we put our head on the floor while we pray. But there’s a lot of students who go in there just to hang out,” AbuRabah said.

Sumana Syed, senior film & television major and president of the Muslim Student Association, said the sensory space is a good idea. She objects to where it was located. 

“I am not against the idea at all,” she said. “However, to have it inside the Reflection Room, which already serves an intended purpose, was not the right move,” Syed said.

Kari Sommers, associate dean of Student Life, declined to comment, saying she would “not be able to add anything useful to your story.” 

Members of the Muslim student group and Hillel, the Jewish student organization, sent a letter to Jeanne Kelly, director of Services for Students with Disabilities, and will meet her next week, AbuRabah said.

Aya Alvarez, a junior photography major, said the college should simply find better space for both communities. 

 “Finding other rooms that aren’t being used as much could really help provide for both communities when it comes to having a safe and quiet space,” she said. “Taking something away from one community and changing it for another doesn’t seem fair. There’s lots of alternatives.”

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About the Contributors
Lukas Katilius
Lukas Katilius, Photojournalist
lkatilius@columbiachronicle.com   Lukas Katilius is a junior photojournalism major. He has covered various campus and Chicago events. Katilius  joined the Chronicle in July 2023.   Hometown: New Lenox, Illinois