USC to replace Gazette with multi-faith

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.

  • Adham

    What a waste of student dollars.

  • Sara

    To you and all the people who are concerned about their tuition fees going to prayer space – really? Prayer is a form of expression, just like art, dance and music. People are free to do what they want, and this doesn’t even conflict with you, so why are you so concerned about a beautiful multi-faith prayer room that can allow hundreds of Western students to practice their faith while on campus? Let things be.

  • Will Rice

    Please tell me that this multi-faith center is a separate
    school club – NOT school sanctioned & subsidized –
    that its activities AREN’T (as appearances suggest)
    granted preferential status – prioritized and pampered.

    Please tell me that, at UWO a millennia-old tradition of
    prioritizing & nurturing free speech as, if not ‘the’ then
    at least ‘a’ requisite of a university’s legitimacy & worth
    is not being suborned.

    Universities, since those first charters, have been the
    preserve of scepticism – not of faith. While there is a
    place, perhaps, for faith in modern life there is no such
    place in any university proper. Adjacent (funded, as any
    other church, synagogue, mosque, or temple, privately)
    by all means – but not integral to the university campus.

    University campus: a sanctum of scepticism – or what?

  • EM

    It’s not dissatisfaction with the space itself, it was over the whole idea of the space.

  • Bad USC, bad…

    I’m disappointed in the USC that I VOTED FOR, you’re letting me down…Acting like a bunch of grade-school bullies, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

  • Matt

    As one who has seen people break out into prayer in the middle of parking lots in the winter months, it is hard to believe that their indoor space is “inadequate”.

    The fact that the USC is willing to put Western’s school culture and full time jobs at risk is extremely disappointing, especially when some of the groups involved seem to have no problem with their current accommodations.

    As mentioned this seems to be a situation of “political correctness” or someone having a friend in the right place.

    The bottom line is that USC’s decision is an extremely inefficient use of student money and that one group of students is receiving benefits at the expense of others. It would be nice to see well thought out decisions being made with our money, but then again this is the group of people that approved a poorly planned multi-faith room in the first place.

  • Rosa

    It’s sad that western’s attempt at being “politically correct” is in the expense of such a big part of western’s community.

  • E

    Not really related to the article but does it strike anyone else as odd to place a poll asking “Should the Gazette office be replaced with a new multi-faith space?” on the Gazette website?
    What could this possibly show, that people who actually read the Gazette would like to defend it?

    (I do believe the USC’s actions are unnecessary and involve frivolous spending but seeing the poll while reading the article baffled me a bit).

  • Hassan Ahmed

    As a member of the MSA, i feel that the USC is simply scape goating religious students organizations, particularly the MSA, through its use of out of date statistics to push its own agenda. There really is no need to change the Gazette office, and though there can be some talk about renovations to the Multi-faith Space, I really dont see the need for what the USC is trying to do here

  • HowardBeale

    Somehow Ms. Dickie has conflated office space with “freedom of the press”. To me, this an insidious rhetorical device – after all, who can disagree with freedom?

    While I undoubtedly sympathize with the many of the issues at hand, the coverage has, so far, neglected to mention that a majority of the content that The Gazette publishes is trite, at best (which is, in my opinion, due to the fact that they remain unwilling to reduce the number of issues per week). I mean, let’s be serious here: The Gazette is by no means a bastion of democracy on campus.

    To be clear, I am in no way defending the USC; the means by which they arrived at these decisions seem rather dubious. But I do think the “freedom of the press” rhetoric needlessly sensationalizes the issue.

  • Tasneem

    This issue is clearly not about suppressing the press to improve the quality of religious accommodations. The USC is really looking to save some money for their budget report and faith-based groups are caught in the middle of it. Like the article states, none have spoken against the multi-faith room. In fact, it has been something that faith-based groups have wanted for as long as it’s been there. Where are these complaints really coming from – or is it because someone just needs to take the fall for it?

  • Observer

    So clearly Jewish and Muslim students don’t have a problem with the space. Yet USC decided that all faith groups have a problem with the space?…was that USC’s conclusion…??

  • AF

    I feel that the USC is doing a great job trying to accommodate the needs of the Multi-faith community– which has been neglected for many years. And I am glad that the USC and many other students feel that expanding is needed, but there are OTHER spaces in the UCC that can be renovated (like the 3rd floor of the UCC, where the cubicles are located). Why the Gazette??

    Also, I agree with Dua Dahrouj, that the USC shouldve discussed the details about this expansion with the faith-based groups.

  • DJazmine

    Reading the comments section, I do not understand how such an intelligent community of individuals can be so disrespectful toward those that hold certain religious beliefs.

  • J

    I’m shocked to learn that my tuition fees were spent on a mutli-million dollar renovations to include a Multi-Faith Prayer room. I am even more outraged to learn that more of my money is about to be spent on relocation of this room into the offices of the Gazette, something that is far more relevant and useful at an academic institution than a prayer room.

    I pay thousands of dollars to this school to gain an education, not to pray. And those 800 people that want to pray would certainly be more than welcome to go to one of many free places of worship in London.

  • RTFerguson

    I personally do not see the problem with this. The Gazette is not being eliminated, merely moved. At the end of the day we will still have out beloved gazette. Those who use the multi-faith room deserve to have space where everyone can feel comfortable, and where its usage can benefit as many people as possible.

  • Sprout

    I can appreciate both sides to this decision. I believe a safe and private space for worship is important in the Western Community as well I see the necessity for the Gazette. We must remember that the USC is not looking to eliminate the Gazette at all, just give them a whole new and improved area to conduct their business. The question I pose is if the multi-faith room changes to an empty room can the Off Campus Resource Centre take over the room?

  • L

    This is a plain simple coup-d’état (or coup d’USC in this case), using a minority (Muslims) as a scapegoat for their political gains, a minority which is surprisingly now a majority thanks to the statistics provided.

  • Michael

    How sad and petty the USC looks on this. Shame on them for not being able to take constructive criticism.

  • Taylor

    The Gazette benefits all of Western. A multi-faith centre only benefits the small percentage of students who regularly practice their faith. This is a poorly thought out and unfounded decision.

  • JTK

    Perhaps a town hall?

  • K

    This is awful. The Gazette doesn’t deserve to be treated like this.