The University Students’ Council recently informed Gazette management of their decision to turn the 40-year-old newspaper office into a new multi-faith space, citing student upset over the University Community Centre’s current prayer room as behind the decision. But one resounding question remains—says who?
Currently, Western’s multi-faith space occupies 1,912 square feet on the second floor of the UCC. The space initially opened in 2010 as part of the multi-million dollar Mustang Lounge renovations. However, two years after its debut, Myuri Komaragiri, vice-president campus issues for the USC, explained the space is simply not meeting the needs and requirements of multi-faith groups on campus.
“It’s not just about having a room and then backtracking and calling it a multi-faith space by putting a plaque in front of it. There’s a lot that goes into building one and it’s my belief that those building blocks weren’t there,” Komaragiri said, adding factors such as spiritual cleansing stations, flexibility between a prayer room and programming, noise reduction and privacy were imperative to such a space.
As such, the USC executive board identified the 1,900-square-foot Gazette office, also on the second floor of the UCC, as the only viable alternative for the space, proposing to move The Gazette and its 24 full-time editors into their 1,165-square-foot composing office, and their composing office into the soon-to-be defunct Purple Door Promos.
According to Komaragiri, student groups were consulted regarding expanding the space at an October meeting and a multi-faith space survey released to gauge student opinion.
However Dua Dahrouj, president of the Muslim Students’ Association, expressed she didn’t feel the USC had done their due diligence when it came to consulting with Western’s faith-based groups, noting she hadn’t heard any “disappointment” with the space.
“When [the USC] did the survey it was before the space was frequently utilized—it was before it was active,” Dahrouj said. “After, when we met in October and the data was released, that was when we collectively agreed we wanted to make use of this space.”
Dahrouj went on to say she felt the USC should have put more time into their decision.
“If making this huge change is a need, create another survey to follow up with the process. Now that it’s active, there might be differences in opinion about the space, compared to before when it wasn’t active.”
Furthermore, concerns Komaragiri raised regarding privacy, flexibility, cleansing stations and a need for silence were not echoed by Dahrouj, nor Western Hillel, nor Chabad Western.
“Personally, for the programs we’re running, it’s perfect,” Josh Raisin, vice-president of Western Hillel, said. “I don’t know if it’s not serving anything that we would like to be served.”
Jeremy Chad, president of Chabad Western, shared similar sentiments.
“We love it there,” he said, unable to recall any complaints he had received from Jewish students using the space.
And while noise from Mustang Lounge concerts was a top concern for the USC executive, Dahrouj said she felt there were better alternatives.
“Providing sound-proof curtains is much cheaper than renovating and rebuilding a brand new space, especially when it’s a space that means a lot to the Western community.”
According to Tony Ayala, vice-president finance for the USC, funding for the three-room switch will be provided by a capital fee paid into by students each year, but the exact breakdown of the multi-million dollar fund has yet to be determined.
“A lot of the time when we come into these terms, we can’t backtrack. We have to deal with what we’ve inherited and move forward, but we just weren’t prepared to do that with this [multi-faith] space,” Komaragiri said of the decision to renovate The Gazette office, leaving the current multi-faith space open for alternative programming.
However, Dahrouj maintained she wanted to see more consultation with Western’s faith-based executives before the USC moves forward with their backtracking decision.
“We’re very happy with the current space. I find that expanding is a good idea, in the sense of separating programming from drop-in prayers. However, I don’t think it’s right or just to expand at the expense of a service that has really been the trademark of Western, that’s been here for such a long time—and without the consultation of faith-based groups,” she concluded.