Safe Space a Welcoming Place for All Faith Traditions

Room in Babcock Hall enables students to meditate and pray with impunity

01 December, 2014 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Safe spaces (places where students can gather to engage in various activities without fear of intimidation or harassment) are becoming increasingly common on college campuses across the country, but a new form of safe space is being created at The College of Wooster to protect one's basic right to freedom of religion.

The new safe space, located in Babcock (residence) Hall, which also serves as the home of Wooster's Center for Diversity and Inclusion, is designed to provide safe haven for students wishing to engage in various forms of spiritual and religious practice.

"What we've been hearing from some of our students is that they feel restricted when it comes to their spiritual or religious practice," says Linda Morgan-Clement, campus chaplain and director of interfaith campus ministries at Wooster. "An increasing number do not feel comfortable in public or even in their own room. This space is intended to provide safety and peace of mind."

It's a far cry from the days of required chapel sessions when the overwhelming majority of students were Christian. Times have changed, according to Morgan-Clement, and the need for a comfortable, safe space that students do not need to reserve is very real. "Chaplains across the country are talking about how campuses are becoming less comfortable for devout religious practitioners from a range of traditions," she says. "The climate is not necessarily hostile, but it is uncomfortable with incidents involving taunting, uncomfortable questioning, strange looks, or behaviors that feel disrespectful to the practitioner, which have restricted students' ability to practice and left them seeking refuge."

The space, a former triple-occupancy dorm room, will be transformed over the winter break. "Right now, there are just a few pillows in the room," says Morgan-Clement, "but soon there will be padded benches along the walls, leaving the majority of the space open. Muslim prayer rugs, pillows for meditation, and storage areas for other religious and spiritual practice will be available."

All faith traditions are welcome, as are those who consider themselves to be "spiritual but not religious," and Morgan-Clement sees this space as an opportunity for dialogue and reflection among students from differing backgrounds. "We're not concerned about conflict," she says. "Our hope is that students will talk to one another and through casual conversation will learn from one another and deepen their understanding of their own traditions, beliefs, and practice."

The room will be open every day from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but students may request additional access beyond those hours. The only rule, according to Morgan-Clement, is that those who use the space respect the spiritual and religious practices and lives of others who also share the space.