A noteworthy percentage of Portland State’s student body is comprised of Islamic adherents. Every day, many of these students take time out of their schedules to bow in prayer, facing the east, and honor the tenants of their religion.
Prayer spaces failing to meet student demand
A noteworthy percentage of Portland State’s student body is comprised of Islamic adherents. Every day, many of these students take time out of their schedules to bow in prayer, facing the east, and honor the tenants of their religion. As of now, a small space on the fourth floor of Neuberger Hall is dedicated to meet the needs of students wishing to pray and meditate throughout the day.
However, according to ASPSU President Katie Markey, this area is insufficient, and often times, unsafe.
“I’ve had reports of harassment and threats. We’ve even had a man expose himself to women praying in the area,” Markey said. “What is needed is a secure space, with coded access.”
Not only are these areas becoming potential security concerns, the demand of these areas is now outpacing the supply, according to Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jackie Balzer.
“These spaces are used for a variety of events that promote spiritual growth, but the student groups that utilize them are outgrowing these spaces,” Balzer said.
Though the issue hasn’t made it to the top of the ASPSU’s to-do list, it has certainly sparked an open dialogue on the senate floor, and the topic has generated some interest.
According to the president of the Saudi Student Club, Abdul-Aziz AlAngari, the Muslim Student Association is campaigning for a space where all the needs of the Muslim community can be met—an area where worshipers can pray free from the distractions of other students roaming the halls and staring, as they bow to Mecca.
While an area that services all PSU students’ religious needs seems ideal, Al-Angari says that practicality would prohibit the ability to effectively share the space with many groups. Scheduling issues surrounding the diverse holidays of varying religions would make matters difficult.
“Christian students have many formal places to pray on campus; Muslims do not,” he said.
Along the PSU Park Blocks, there are presently eight registered Christian churches. The nearest Islamic mosque is located on Southwest 43rd Avenue, Al-Angari said.
Despite a demand for these proposed prayer areas, ASPSU is reluctant to rubber-stamp the request.
“When you’re dealing with something which has social-political repercussions like this, it seems that the deciding forces tend to drag their feet,” said ASPSU Senator John Monett.
Monett also raised the question of the separation of church and state, and expressed his concern about the funding of such spaces.
“Portland State is a public university; we receive money from the state,” he said. “The funding of religious buildings should not be the responsibility of the school. This is something that needs to be established off campus.”
Currently, there is a Spiritual Life Center on campus that is funded by the United Methodists and Presbyterian Churches.
Though no official plans have been set in motion by ASPSU, currently there are several teachers who have volunteered their rooms for student prayer in the interim. ?